Friday, May 1, 2009

UNIMA Indonesia

For the last couple of months, I have been helping out a group of young Yogya-based pupeteers, namely Maria "Ria" Tri Sulistyani of Papermoon Puppet Theater, contemporary dalang Catur 'Benyek' Kuncoro and animator and dalang Ananto Wicaksono. Together, we arranged a planning meeting to establish UNIMA Indonesia, a national centre of the international puppet organisation. I am a member of British UNIMA (BrUNIMA), and was appointed to sit on the exec committee of BrUNIMA. I also currently serve on two international commissions.

Only one Indonesian puppeteer, I Made Sidia from Bali, attended the last UNIMA Congress in Perth, and it was my feeling (and Made's) that Indonesia needs a greater voice in this international organisation. UNIMA has made repeated overtures to establish a national centre in Indonesia, without success.

This meeting took place at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta on 26 April, and attracted perhaps 35 puppeteers, puppet experts and cultural organisers from all over Java, with Dewa Wicaksana (head of ISI Denpasar's puppetry department) representing Bali. Both Senawangi and Pepadi, the two existing national wayang organisations, were represented, and there was much lively debate about the place of the local (particularly emphasised by Slamet Gundhono and Jlitheng Suparman), the need for autonomous expression, the value of exchange and cooperation. Enthus Susmono offered many humorous comments along the way.

The day before the meeting a small group of participants from out of town and the organising committee toured Yogyakarta puppet sites.

We visited first the wayang museum Kekayon, located about 7 kilometers out of town. The museum is basically the work of a single collector- with puppets in glass cases displayed to make scenes. Most of the major traditional wayang genres are represented, some by new puppets, some old. Many of the puppets, perhaps most, were commissioned by the collector. Thus there is a room dedicated to the 100 Kurawa siblings, with sketches and puppets of them all. (Most kotak or sets of puppets have no more than 10 of these, and very few dalang will have their names memorized.) There are also a scattering of more traditional puppets - one representing a rock star; a small set of puppets from an experimental wayang produced circa 1975 in Yogya. Puppets from other traditions are also represented and around the museum there are statues and ornaments of a variety of cultures (Chinese, European etc) to illustrate that wayang is a meeting place of different cultural streams.

Kekayon has volunteered space for a UNIMA Indonesia secretariat, and this offer is being seriously considered. The present owner of Kekayon said that this would be a way to 'menghidupkan' (bring life to) the museum, which is looking rather tired and desolate - there was some structural damage during the 2006 earthquake, and visitor numbers are low.

We then visited the studio of legendary puppet creator Sukasman, best known for his daring new buta, setan and punakawan figures and his wayang ukur productions. Sukasman has been experimenting with wayang for decades; his wayang ukur was performed at the UNIMA Congress held in 2000 in Germany. His studio has a full working theatre in it - with a gamelan, a raised podium for a stage, provision for lighting and sound equipment - and is decorated by stone carvings on the walls and a huge unicorn statue.

Sukasman spoke to us at length about his approach to making puppets, bringing out various diagrams (see above) and puppets - including 4 different Gareng puppets. He also interpreted many of the figures and other aspects of wayang in terms of sexual symbolism. Formerly, Sukasman was very angry about his figures being imitated by other carvers and used by puppeteers without his permission. He now has a more laissez faire attitude, and recognises that he is part of a larger tradition, and that he can always make new figures.

From Sukasman's studio, we visited Papermoon. Ria showed her work on her computer and spoke about a range of community projects she has conducted in Sumatra, Papua and Java- including teaching kids how to construct puppets out of recycled goods.

The final stop was Ledjar Subroto's house on Jalan Mataram. Ledjar brought out many of the puppets he will be bringing with him to the Tong-Tong Festival in Holland - ranging from portrait puppets, puppets in the Willem series, wayang revolusi, wayang kancil, Batman, different sorts of kayon etc etc. It was an impressive assemblage.

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