Wayang Kulit Puppets

In Indonesia the tradition of shadow puppet theater is very much alive and well on the islands of Java and Bali. The most popular plays are the Ramayana and Mahabharata religious epics, but the creation of new plays, and glosses to old ones, keep the tradition alive. Historical material, commentary on local events, comic relief, and even political views and propaganda are often included, giving the plays a freshness and immediacy.

Credit goes to the ‘dalang’, or puppetmaster, for the creation and performance of the plays, and sometimes the puppets too. Most often seen are the plays utilizing ‘wayang kulit’, or puppets made of the hide of water buffalo, which is delicately perforated and then elaborately painted.

Performances are usually at night and last many hours, starting around 9:00 and sometimes going on well into the morning. The stage comprises a screen of white cloth hung between the audience and the staging area of the ‘dalang’, with a source of light on the side away from the audience, silhouetting the puppets. On the ‘dalang’ side the puppets are arranged with the virtuous, good characters on the right and the undesirable, bad ones on the left. A ‘gamelan’ (orchestra) provides musical accompaniment and the audience is free to walk around and view the action from either side of the screen.

Our collection represents a small number of characters from both Java and Bali. The Javanese figures are quite stylized with elaborate hairdos and outfits, elongated arms, and exaggerated features. Balinese figures are more lifelike and naturally proportioned. We like them displayed freestanding so that the light can show through the perforations, but they can also be mounted and framed.

See Available Items: Indonesian Shadow Puppets