Monday, July 14, 2014

Wayang in the British Museum

It's been a long time since my last blog post - almost exactly a year in fact - and I think it is high time for me to get back to blogging. This inactivity has been due largely to pressing other needs, but also on focus on non-Indonesia matters.

The last weeks though have seen me return to the world of wayang kulit through a series of visits to the stores of the British Museum, where I have been looking at shadow puppets from Java, Bali, Thailand, and Malaysia with visiting puppet experts, including Professor I Nyoman Sedana (pictured above looking at a nineteenth-century Balinese bark cloth-on-rattan figure used for cremation ceremonies) from ISI Denpasar.

Alexandra Green, the museum's Southeast Asia curator, and I have an exhibition proposal on Asian shadow puppets under consideration and we are hoping to develop an AHRC bid around this. The visiting experts (five of them so far) have been working with us in developing a research methodology in how to work with shadow puppets in museum contexts.

Alex has been thinking about the history of collecting in relation to this -- why are certain figures chosen over others - as well as the history of cultural interactions which take form in shadow puppets. (She has some fascinating insights into the use of Indian trade textiles on the Raffles figures from early nineteenth-century Java.) I have been thinking about how puppeteers imprint their dramatic imaginations on these static figures from another time, and what sorts of historical and practical information can be evoked in the encounter with museum objects.

There is still a long journey before us....