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Last Updated: Friday, 10 November 2006, 16:19 GMT
Show opens for Indonesia puppetry
By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Jakarta

Indonesia's first contemporary puppetry festival has opened in Jakarta.

Indonesian puppets
Shadow puppetry has a long history in Indonesia

Artists from Indonesia and abroad are performing at locations across the capital to showcase how Indonesia's traditional shadow puppetry has developed into a modern art-form.

Slamet Gundono sits under a tree outside a small Jakarta theatre. He has travelled all night to be here, and is keen to talk about condoms.

"We use them to cover glasses," he says, "we use them to cover plates, and even the puppets too."

Puppetry in Indonesia is not what it used to be.

Mr Gundono is one of Indonesia's most innovative puppeteers.

His puppets are often made from vegetables or grass, and he uses props like condoms to give a new twist to traditional tales.

"There's a guy in the story," he explains, "and he's a sex maniac. He wants to be free. The society he comes from - Javanese society - is strict but it's also protective. Condoms are a good way of getting that across."

Sensitive subjects

The festival is all about exploring new influences.

Rock music, kung fu, even cowboy movies - they have all shaped Indonesia's puppet theatre, and festival organiser Juliana Wilson says that has opened up a new kind of audience.

There has been a whole influx of very powerful media, she explains.

"We even have Indonesian MTV here, so there's a whole jumble that's going on right now, and art has to live, to adapt and learn to speak to people. The groups we're presenting at the festival are speaking to this new generation," she says.

Indonesian puppets
Indonesian puppeteers experiment with new forms of expression

It is not just the puppets or the props that have changed.

Puppeteers like Mr Gundono are moving away from traditional stories and are instead tackling very modern issues, like gender and the environment.

There is a greater sense of globalisation, of puppetry reflecting not just its own political or ethical concerns, but global ones as well.

Indonesian puppetry has explored sensitive subjects for years, and many artists, like Endo Suwanda, believe it is a better medium than many others for exploring new or contentious issues.

"Artists can speak through puppets," he says, "and it's different to when they speak themselves; they get a new kind of freedom."

The old traditions have not completely disappeared from the modern stage.

Puppetry in Indonesia may have discovered new technology, and new audiences, but it has not forgotten its roots.

Country profile: Indonesia
18 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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