Shadow puppets loaned to Jakarta

May 2005 -

Rotterdam’s Wereldmuseum recently gave a special collection of wajang shadow puppets to the Wajang Museum in Jakarta on long-term loan. This shadow play from 1958, called Wayang Revolusi (‘ Shadow Puppet Revolution’), is an educational and satirical portrayal of the struggle for independence against the Dutch coloniser.


Shadow play Wayang Revolusi

On 23 April, the Mayor of Rotterdam, Mayor Opstelten, hosted a symbolic handover of the more than 150 puppets to Vice-Governor Bowo of the Indonesian capital city. The official handover is planned for 16 August in Jakarta, during the celebrations to mark the 60 th anniversary of independence. ‘In this way, we are exhibiting our common past and strengthening the ties between twin towns Rotterdam and Jakarta', explains Rotterdam museum director Stanley Bremer.

In addition, in this way the Wereldmuseum is answering the recent call by the ambassador for international cultural collaboration Jan Hoekema to make their common cultural heritage something that is actually shared in practice. ‘So you can see that we listened closely to this appeal', declares Bremer. ‘We will now suit the action to the word - in the Rotterdam way.'

Since 1965, the shadow play collection had been in the possession by the Wereldmuseum, where artist Raden Mas Sayid’s puppets had been held in store for years now. However, the Rotterdammers had always rejected previous requests from Jakarta to be given the collection, mainly due to the poor air conditioning in the Wajang Museum. ‘We have now made a breakthrough in this respect', says Bremer. In fact, placing the wooden and leather puppets in climate-controlled display cabinets means they will now be protected from the humidity and warmth.

The collection consists of striking and comical portraits of East Indian Company officials, Dutch governors, Royal Dutch East-Indian Army personnel and Indonesian leaders such as Sukarno and Hatta. A copy of the whole puppet theatre is being made too, so that after all these years the whole show can finally be performed again.

The project forms part of a broader economic and cultural collaboration between the two cities and is being financed by Dutch and Indonesian funds. Says Bremer: ‘I hope that other museums will follow our example.'