Shadow Puppet Wayang Purwa, 19th C.
Leather and water buffalo hide
17 x 8 in
This flat shadow puppet was created by an unknown Indonesian artist using water buffalo hide. This shadow puppet, 17 1/4" high with movable arms, was used in Indonesian Wayang puppet shows. Wayang (Krama Javanese: Ringgit ꦫꦶꦁꦒꦶꦠ꧀, "Shadow"), also known as Wajang, is a form of puppet theatre art found in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, wherein a dramatic story is told through shadows thrown by puppets and sometimes combined with human characters. The art form celebrates the Indonesian culture and artistic talent; its origins are traced to the spread of Hinduism in the medieval era and the arrival of leather-based puppet arts called Tholu bommalata from southern India. Wayang refers to the entire dramatic show. Sometimes the leather puppet itself is referred to as wayang. Performances of shadow puppet theatre are accompanied by a gamelan orchestra in Java, and by gender wayang in Bali. The dramatic stories depict mythologies, such as episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata as well as local adaptations of cultural legends. Traditionally, a wayang is played out in a ritualized midnight-to-dawn show by a dalang, an artist and spiritual leader; people watch the show from both sides of the screen. UNESCO designated wayang kulit, a shadow puppet theatre and the best known of the Indonesian wayang, as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 7 November 2003. In return for the acknowledgment, UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve their heritage. Wayang has also been a significant historical art form in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.