Southeast Asian Art

André Roosevelt’s Intimacy


André Roosevelt took this photograph of a young Legong dancer while visiting Bali in 1934. Charmed by its culture, Roosevelt envisioned Bali as both a tourist attraction and an international park—focused on exposing its beauty to the world while maintaining its integrity. Bali’s history dates back millenniums—the first documentation of civilization goes back as far as 3000 BC. Interestingly enough, despite being colonized by the Dutch in the sixteenth century, Bali managed to maintain its identity and resist excessive western cultural influence.

This subject’s fleeting stare, exquisite headdress and accessories present her as a living expression of tradition. Her porcelain skin seem to represent the uncontaminated identity of Bali’s civilization, alluding to the novelty of the unique, and untouched in a world that continues to globalize. Her meticulously crafted attire moves the viewer’s eye from place to place. Each feature of her seemingly-divine garb contributes to a holistic piece of artistic expression.

Roosevelt’s photo begs the viewer to consider whether or not some aspects of the world are better appreciated as they are than manipulated. As a flower dies after it is picked, novel civilizations have time and again been westernized into diluted forms of their previous cultural integrity. This photo captures a moment in time in Bali before the onset of tourism and western societal influences—leading the viewer into an untouched dimension that allows for the contemplation of life’s diversity. Although the dancer is unaware of the viewer, the shot’s intimacy makes us feel as though we are sharing a part of our humanity with this young face—an emotional window into a story unknown; very real but at the same time very far way.

What do you think of this photograph?

Suku Bali from Jonny Micay on Vimeo.