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.
 

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

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

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Global

Just In