New Exhibit “Bali: Agency and Power in Southeast Asia” Opens at USC Pacific Asia Museum

Published on Mar 17, 2022

“Bali: Agency and Power in Southeast Asia,” an exhibition centering on paintings collected in Bali, Indonesia, by cultural anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead during their fieldwork on the island between 1936 and 1939, is opening at the USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena on Friday, March 18.

Mead (1901-1978) and Bateson (1904-1980) were married in 1936 in Singapore as they headed for fieldwork in Bali in what used to be the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia. They documented Balinese culture in extensive field notes and through the innovative use of still photographs and motion picture film.

Collaborating with other Westerners living in Bali and with Balinese informants, Mead and Bateson produced multiple layers of documentation of such behaviors as parent-child interactions, ritual performances and ceremonies, and artists at work. In addition to other objects, Mead and Bateson collected Balinese art from adults and children and acquired over 1,200 pieces of artwork.

The USC PAM exhibition uses the paintings as a foundation for exploring the stories, beliefs, and daily lives of Balinese people. “Bali: Agency and Power in Southeast Asia” will guide visitors to a greater understanding of this often romanticized but frequently misunderstood island and examine the role that painters, tourists, and anthropologists had in shaping new art styles for communicating detailed aspects of Balinese society and beliefs.

A select number of the Bateson-Mead collection of paintings from Batuan will be displayed to introduce visitors to the collection, its origins, and its purpose in building insight into Balinese culture, belief, and worldview. The exhibition will build from existing literature on the Bateson-Mead Balinese paintings.

With close examination, visitors will have the opportunity to see representations of traditions from the past that continue to be a source of entertainment in Bali today. Visitors can also study the way that peoples’ interactions and familial relationships are exaggerated to tell stories and create understanding of actions and their consequences.

Finally, viewers will see the role that beliefs related to deities, mythical animals, and ancestor spirits have in the way that many Balinese process the world around them.

The exhibition is on view through June 12.

For more information, call (626) 787-2680 or visit

The USC Pacific Asia Museum is at 46 N. Los Robles Ave. in Pasadena. The museum recommends that all visitors, including members, reserve advance timed entry tickets online.

To learn more about visiting policies and other information, visit

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