Mimi Herbert’s work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Amerian Art Museum, The Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History...
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Puppet Masters

Voices Of The Puppet Masters


 Indonesia's wayang golek puppet theatre is among the world's oldest and richest puppetry traditions, contemporary with Japanese Noh drama and the mystery plays of Europe. The puppet masters, many of whom trace their skills back through seven or eight generations, are extraordinary artists. Some are shamans, and many are charismatic performers. The master carvers who create these three-dimensional wooden puppets boast similarly impressive genealogies, and their work draws equally on ancient mystical practices. As the puppet master Tizar Purbaya once explained,"The wayang puppet is not a doll. It follows the dalang [puppet master], but the dalang must also follow it. He gives it soul and it, in return, gives life to him."

Voices of the Puppet Masters is based on five years of intensive research in Indonesia, including hundreds of hours of discussions and interviews with puppet masters and craftsmen. The authored her Indonesian collaborator visited the artists in their homes, in villages scattered across the length and breath of Java, attending performances, and even participating in an exorcism ceremony. These performances typically last for many hours, sometimes throughout the night—theatrical extravaganzas blending religious mysticism with all of the frailties and strengths of the human condition, accompanied by song and a gamelan orchestra.
Java is the most populous island in the world, the political and cultural heart of Indonesia, and traditional theatre survives as it has for centuries. But the puppet masters are getting older, many are dying, and the art form has become endangered. It was against this backdrop that the author set out to preserve the voices of some of the leading puppet masters working in this tradition today.