The Art of Wayang

  • Marianna Lis (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Wayang kulit, shadow theatre, which has roots dating back over one thousand years, is one of the most popular, or even the most popular theatre form in Java. The performances, which last the whole night and during which the dalang (puppeteer) animates a few or several dozen puppets, mainly depict stories taken from the Mahabharata or Ramayana. Live gamelan music accompanies the play. The puppets, made of specially prepared and painted leather, are one of the most characteristic elements of wayang, recognized even by those who have never seen any performance. Javanese streets are full of billboards advertising Hollywood superheroes by means of wayang puppets. Heroic warriors from the Mahabharata are everywhere – on hotel signboards, buses, t-shirts and all kinds of souvenirs. Wayang puppets are not only the symbols of shadow theatre – now they are seen as a symbol of Javanese culture and the whole of Indonesia outside its borders. So, they appear in tourist brochures that promote exotic vacations, on the covers of books by Indonesian writers and, most often, in the form of intriguing interior decorations used in TV series and films created in the West.