New exhibition “Performance and Court in Indonesia” showcases Indonesian shadow puppets (Yale Art Gallery, New Haven)

“Performance and Court in Indonesia” is a new display for the Yale Art Gallery’s Indo-Pacific department featuring Indonesian shadow puppets (“wayang kulit”) from the Dr. Walter Angst and Sir Henry Angest Collection. At the center of the gallery is a screen where a selection of puppets depicts scenes from the Indic epic “Mahabharata,” which is popular in Javanese performances.

Currently on view is a scene from the play “Irawan Rabi” (Irawan’s Wedding). Arjuna, shown at left, is accompanied by his two wives, Sumbadra and Srikandhi. They have come to tell Abimanyu, Arjuna and Sumbadra’s son, that he cannot marry his beloved Siti Sundari because her father, King Kresna, has promised her to the son of another king. The young pair is overcome with grief and collapses to the floor. At the far right, a spade-shaped “kayon,” a representation of the cosmic mountain and tree of life, frames the action.


The scenes in this shadow puppet display will change regularly, but they will all come from the royal set “Kyai Nugroho,” stored behind the screen in a large wooden box, as used in actual performances in the grand pavilion (“pendhapa”) of Prince Tejakusuma in the city of Yogyakarta. Shadow puppets are presented by a puppeteer, or “dhalang,” who performs all-night renditions of epic tales accompanied by a “gamelan” orchestra. Some spectators watch from behind the screen to appreciate the brightly-colored puppets and the performers in action, while others prefer to watch the shadows.

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Click here to view the nearly 900 examples of wayang kulit shadow puppets in the Yale Art Gallery collection.

#YaleArtGallery #YUAG #IndoPacificArt #puppets #ShadowPuppets #puppetry #IndonesianPuppets #WayangPurwa #WayangKulit #WayangArt