Saturday, May 2, 2009

Javanese Rod Puppets Collection at Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

I took some photographs of the Javanese rod puppets (wayang golek) collection in exhibition at San Francisco Asian Art Museum in February, this 2009.

It seems the museum has dozens of these puppets but only a few are in exhibition. (1)

This is what the Museum's caption says about this kind of puppet theatre:

"Rod Puppets (wayang golek) of Java, Indonesia.

Indonesian Puppet Traditions

Amond the performing arts traditions of Indonesia, the most familiar to outsiders is the shadow puppet theater (wayang kulit).

Another important, though less well known, Indonesian performing arts is the theater of three-dimensional rod puppets (wayang golek). Unlike the shadow puppet theater, which has been nurtured in the aristocratic courts of Central java,wayang golek has been a popular, nonaristocratic tradition. It has flourished along the northern coast and western Java.

The puppet theater of Indonesia is not a children's theater, although children are often fascinated by it. Its stories are derived from the great Indian epics the ramayana and the Mahabharata (which are familiar in varying degrees in much of Southeast asia), as well as from other literary works ad incidents of history. The stories come from both Hindu and Islamic contexts.


A sole puppeteer not only manipulates all the puppet characters but also speaks for all of them, at the same time creating sound effects and directing the accompanying musical ensemble.
Performances continue for many hours. They must not be interrupted for fear of causing disruptions in the everyday world, which the puppet world is seen as paralleling. because the puppet theater, in addition to portraying furious battles and raucous comedy,examines the most serious issues facing society, amaster puppeteer is thought to posees great spiritual power.

The Puppets

The puppets, carved of wood, are brightly painted, and dressed in clothing and jewelry of batik and other fabrics, leather, sequins, and beads. Their hands can be turned by the pupeteer, and their long arms are hinged at shoulders, elbows, and wrists, allowing the puppeteer to use the rods attached to the hands to create a wide range of expressive gestures.

The facial features, colors, and costumes of the puppets identify the characters they represent, from beautiful princesses to noble warriors to scheming courtiers to mischievous clowns to exalted gods. The Indonesian audience usually knows the stories presented, can recognize the puppet characters, and is aware of their powers and weaknesses as well as the quirks of their personalities. The characters are so familiar that you can say "our neighbor is acting like Bhima," and everyone will know what you mean.

There are some videos in Youtube showing these theatre in performances:

(1) Here is a link to the database of the Asian Art Museum, with photographs and information about any of its puppets collection:

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