The Indonesian Puppet Show That Stars Barack Obama

A Javanese shadow puppet performance features a surprise cameo.

President Barack Obama has been called lots of things since he moved into the White House, but a sold out audience at Asia Society New York Friday night got a big surprise when he made an appearance as a puppet. Obama's cameo came during a performance of the ancient Javanese art of wayang kulit, commonly called shadow puppetry, which for centuries has been a way of telling stories, from myths and legends to topics of contemporary importance.

In his meeting with one the major Javanese clown characters, Bagong, Obama talked about spending four years growing up in Jakarta, and the clown gave him some budgeting advice -- reallocate funds from war to arts and education. This scene, which was a comic interlude in the 3.5-hour performance by Ki Purbo Asmoro, in many ways exemplifies the art of wayang kulit. The puppeteer must be able to meld the story with music, comedy, local politics, philosophy and tradition. This dhalang (puppeteer) is perhaps Java's most popular, easily garnering 3-4,000 attendees to his performances. At Asia Society, he was assisted by the expert simultaneous translation of Kitsie Emerson, 10 members of his Mayankara Gamelan troupe and 30 members of New York gamelan group, Gamelan Kusuma Laras.

Read The Village Voice's take on the evening here.

This article originally appeared at Asia Society, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Rachel Cooper is Director of Culture and Performing Arts at Asia Society.
 

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Global

Just In