Illustrations of some of our puppets:
(Please click on the images for a more detailed view)
||A Collection of Shadow Puppets
Polychrome parchment, wood, bone and bamboo
Java, 19th century
There are three distinct shadow play traditions in the world which are to be found in Java and Bali, certain parts of mainland South East Asia and India. The shadow plays in Java draws on a common heritage of Indian culture and stories borrowed from Indian epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
A shadow play is one of the world's most complex and refined dramatic and theatrical forms, having developed through an unbroken session of artists, generation by generation, for more than a thousand years. Javanese shadow plays are known as 'Wayang Purwa' and are elaborate performances lasting throughout the night.
The puppets 'Wayang Kulit' are made from animal hide, usually that of a buffalo. They are said to be made of leather, this term is incorrect. The material is parchment.
These puppets are richly decorated and coloured, since originally one half of the audience, the men, would sit on the side of the screen where the actual puppets could be seen, while the women watched the shadows. The puppets are stylized versions of people, with the head and hair being particularly prominent, since it is normally these attributes which are used to identify the different characters. No other shadow puppets outside Java have anything resembling their most striking characteristics: very long necks, the unnaturally extended shoulders and the excessively long arms.
It is believed that the stylised shapes of the wajang kulit puppets date from the sixteenth century and are credited to the Moslem Sunan of Giri who is suppose to have ordered a non-realistic puppet set made in order to circumvent the Islamic proscription against portrayal of the human form in art.
The form of language used in wajang kulit is a blend of Sanskrit, old Javanese (kawi) and colloquial language.
Each puppet is manipulated by a single person, the Dalang, who also provides the voice. An orchestra, consisting of gongs, drums and tuned percussion instruments, accompanies the action - it is known as a gamelan. Gamelan music is essential to the performance as it provides cadence to which puppets move across the screen, take their places in the banana-log stage and fight.
For comparative shadow puppets see;
Javanese Shadow Puppets by Jeune Scott-Kemball, British Museum 1970
On Thrones of Gold by James R Brandon, Harvard University Press 1970