Behind the curtains of shadow theatera

By: There are over 50 works of decorative theater art from the state and private collections of Russia and Indonesia. Some exhibits come from the State Museum of Oriental Art. “We really liked the idea of exhibiting Indonesian puppets and masks from our collection on the premises of the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art,” said deputy director of the State Museum of Oriental Art Tatiana Metaksa in her interview to the Voice of Russia. “It is wonderful when a museum dedicated to Russian art exhibits works from one of the beautiful Oriental countries.” The theatrical culture of Indonesia, which is one of the largest island countries in South East Asia, is practically unknown to the majority of Russian viewers. However, historically, theater performances became one of the main ingredients of the spiritual culture of the residents of the Malay Archipelago and the Islands of Java and Bali. The word “wayang”is used to denote both a theater performance and theater puppets. One of the main exhibits on show is a painting several meters wide that depicts episodes from a Javanese fairy tale about the adventures of the young knight Panji and his beloved princess Sekartadji. Such paintings are used for the performances of wayang
master  beber, during which –  the show accompanied by some music – tells Panji’s story by showing paintings that were wrapped around two vertical poles. It could be said that such performances in the past were the equivalent of today's cartoons. But they mostly remind one of a show of diapositive photography that was so popular in the 20th century. Today the art of wayang beber is almost extinct. Only two sets of ancient paintings dated around the 17th –18th centuries have survived to this day, and are considered to be sacred relics that possess magic powers. Performances that use these ancient paintings are held only during especially important ceremonies. The state of the paintings is quite poor, that is why about ten years ago their owners allowed them to be copied in order to preserve the unique heritage and let as many people as possible see them. One such work based on the scroll from the Javanese district of Pachitan is on show at the exhibition. Nonetheless, the exhibited work is still just a copy of the original scroll. Some details, the decoration of the background and the coloring of the canvas exhibited at the Museum of Decorative and Applied Art, are a product of the imagination of the artist who made the modern version. However, the composition as well as the basic artistic methods mirrors the original. According to Tatiana Metaksa, the good characters have “refined facial features: thin lips, thin noses, almond shaped eyes, while bad characters to the contrary are traditionally portrayed with thick red lips that are too big in size.” The story of Panji was also popular with the dancing drama show called wayang topeng, the masks from which are also exhibited at the museum. The actors themselves do not talk since they are holding the part of the puppet with their teeth that is attached to the inside of its mask. The show master tells the story for them. The only exclusion is the fool who wears the mask and makes the audience laugh. In 2003, UNESCO granted wayang world heritage status, thus acknowledging the importance of this type of theater. Photos provided by The All-Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Art, Source: Voice Of Russia

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