Traditional art form emerging from shadows of the past

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 27 Dec 2016

Keeping up with the times: Children admiring the ‘wayang kulit’ superhero characters on display at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Wayang kulit (shadow play), the age-old theatre performance, appears to be shedding its skin to adapt to changing times.

“Some of the old timers want to keep the art form as it is. But we need to allow some transformation to attract the younger generation,” said Department of Museums Malaysia director-general Datuk Kamarul Baharin A. Kasim.

“We introduce new characters and new storylines but we keep the musical instruments, the methodo­logy of the wayang kulit in the adaptation,” he said.

In an interview, he cautioned that the Nusantara art of wayang kulit must tread the fine line of modernity and tradition for it to stand the test of time.

There was a need for the art form to adapt to the modern world to stay relevant for the next generation, he said after last Tuesday’s launch of the Nusantara Shadow Play: Symbolism Behind the Screen exhibition at the National Museum.

Kamarul said the crucial elements of the art should be preserved while the storylines could be adapted to modern times.

Puppet masters (dalang) should continue to be trained to ensure that the wayang kulit, in its traditional form, would stay alive so that Malaysia would not lose this precious heritage.

“Culture is dynamic and it can be adapted (for modern times), but the traditional form of the art needs to still be there,” he added.

The exhibition, which will run until Feb 28, aims to showcase the use of symbolism and characters in wayang kulit performances.

Kamarul said that the exhibition also aimed to show the importance of wayang kulit’s role in communication and entertainment in the past.

“In Malay culture, there is symbolism in all practices. And in wayang kulit, there is always a message to be delivered in the performances.”

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see the various puppets used in the performances and to view the intricate details of the puppets.

Incidentally, the puppets are usual­­­ly made of cowhide, instead of that from a bull, as they are softer.

Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, who launch­ed the exhibition, said that it was important for Ma­­laysians to keep the art of wayang kulit alive, seeing that it is unique to the Nusantara region, comprising of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Malaysia, he said, would work towards having the wayang kulit listed as national and world cultu­ral heritage under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Although Indonesia had done the same in order to get Unesco’s recognition, Nazri said that Malaysia’s wayang kulit had different characteristics.

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