Exhibitions / Indonesian Shadow Puppets

July 19, 2017 - March 18, 2018

Curator: Christine Hietbrink

Shadow puppet performances have been a highly-refined and complex storytelling tradition in parts of Indonesia for hundreds of years. Known as wayang kulit, these flat puppets are cut and punched from water buffalo hide and then colorfully painted, usually on both sides. Sticks or handles made from water buffalo horn or wood, attached to the base and limbs of each puppet, enable it to come to life in the hands of the dhalang, or puppeteer, who sits behind a cotton screen and manipulates the puppets while narrating a story.

This intimate exhibition in the Museum’s Theater Gallery will feature approximately 30 puppets, which depict the vast repertoire of heroes and heroines, demons and pranksters featured in the great Hindu epics, the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa, as well as local gods and mythical subjects. Puppet performances provide entertainment, a sense of community, as well as an opportunity for sacred and secular instruction. Traditional performances are always accompanied by a gamelan, a musical ensemble comprised of gongs, drums, xylophones and stringed instruments.