Resistance and Reinvention: The Politics of Contemporary Wayang

The Politics of Art in Southeast Asia Seminar Series

About the Webinar

Wayang kulit (Javanese shadow theatre) is one of the oldest and most respected performance traditions in Java. It is also a form that has been the target of government intervention, most notably during Suharto’s New Order (1966-1998) where workshops were held to determine the appropriate messages and aesthetics of the form. Due to its preeminence in the performing arts discourse in Indonesia, wayang is also a site of artistic contention, and many experimental theatre companies, such as Teater Garasi, actively reject wayang for its feudal values and antiquated conventions. Its elevation to the status of a national form does not sit well with non-Javanese audiences and artists either. These critical attitudes have not been lost on the practitioners of wayang kulit, and several dalangs (puppet masters) have been making widely experimental, controversial interventions in wayang in the past 20 years. The range of these attitudes must be read against the complex political history of attempts to co-opt, resist and re-imagine wayang. This talk is based on conversations with artists who hold a wide range of ideas on what wayang kontemporer should aspire to – both politically and aesthetically. The multifaceted landscape of contemporary wayang practice and discourse offers insight into the complex politics of contemporary artistic practice in Indonesia.

This webinar is supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

About the Speaker

Miguel Escobar Varela is a researcher, web developer and translator. He combines computational methods and ethnography to study cultural change in Southeast Asia, and his primary focus is the performing arts of Indonesia and Singapore. He also develops interactive forms of scholarly publication to reach wider audiences. He is currently Assistant Professor at NUS and Academic Advisor on Digital Scholarship to the NUS Libraries. He is the director of the Contemporary Wayang Archive, a video collection of wayang performances with subtitles and notes. Miguel’s research papers, datasets and code are available at


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Jul 27 2020


10:00 am - 11:30 am