Did you know that we frequently change the works on view in our collection galleries? Indonesian rod puppets, ceremonial textiles, and a demon-shaped dagger hilt now on view bring to life the traditions of Southeast Asia.
Puppet theater (wayang) is the preeminent performance art of the island of Java — as both ritual and entertainment, it reflects the lives and worldview of the Javanese people. The museum has an extensive collection of rod puppets from Indonesia and frequently brings out new examples for you to enjoy.
On view now are rod puppets representing characters from the wayang menak, a cycle of stories depicting the exploits of Amir Hamzah, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, which is popular in central and northern coastal Java. These figures are accompanied by the Javanese king Kuda Lalean, an early convert to Islam, and nine Muslim saints as represented by beloved jesters (panakawan). Puppet masters often use jester characters like these to infuse epic stories with comic political commentary on contemporary life.
A Malaysian ceremonial textile made with the rare sungkit technique and an Indonesian sarong are also on view. They provide a glimpse into the rich weaving traditions of the region and the varied ways that cloth is intertwined with ritual.
An exquisitely carved ivory handle for a Balinese kris, or dagger, in the shape of a demon suggests how these weapons doubled as spiritually powerful objects and markers of status. This example may have even been a royal object — royal krisses often had handles made of precious materials and depicted demonic figures, sometimes referred to as ogres (raksasa).
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Images: Umar Maya, loyal companion to Amir Hamzah, approx. 1960. Indonesia; Yogyakarta, Central Java. Wood, cloth and mixed media. Asian Art Museum, From The Mimi and John Herbert Collection, F2000.86.122. Photograph © Asian Art Museum. Amir Hamzah, uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, spreader of Islam, and hero of the Serat Menak, by dalang Otong Rasta, approx. 1970. Indonesia. Wood, cloth and mixed media. Asian Art Museum, From The Mimi and John Herbert Collection, F2000.86.62. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.