My interest in Hindu/Buddhist philosophy took root in 1992, when I visited Bali, Indonesia for the first time. Bali is a unique place, smaller than Rhode Island but with a language and religion entirely its own. Before Indonesia became the Muslim nation we know today, there were two major Hindu/Buddhist empires, the Mataram and the Majapahit, dating back to the 4th century C.E. Bali never succumbed to the spread of Islam, and still pursues a religious practice akin to the medieval society that built Borobudur.
Since leaving Bali that first time, I’ve sustained an engagement with Indonesian art for over 30 years, all the while developing my career as a photographer. My connection to Indonesia has taken a lot of forms, but one of the things I keep coming back to is the Hindu/Buddhist (the Balinese don’t make a distinction between the two) texts and traditions I first learned about in Bali. My photography, too, comes in lots of shapes and sizes, sometimes overlapping with Indonesia but not always.
The work featured in Bright, Bright Day was made largely between 2019-2020. These were hard years for me, but I found sustenance working for the American Institute for Indonesian Studies, taking weekly yoga classes, finding new love, reading translations of the Vedas and Upanishads, and by keeping a collage diary made using small, instant photographs combined with fragments from my readings. The photographs were made with a plastic camera intended for children and the written fragments expanded beyond just these texts, but the intent was always the same - to find new ways of discovering innocence again in such a difficult world. The collages, I think, are best understood as sketches or drawings, work developed quickly to free new possibilities.
This exhibition coincides with the launch of my newest book, A History of Photography in Indonesia. These bodies of work don’t appear to have too much in common, but the majority of the text was developed during the time I made the collages in the series Bright, Bright Day.
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Brian Arnold is a photographer, educator, writer, and musician living in Ithaca, NY. For more information, please visit my other blog, A Photographer's Journal.