By Matthew Isaac Cohen (auth.)
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Additional info for Performing Otherness: Java and Bali on International Stages, 1905–1952
4 Through this framing, the grotesque body puppets acted as icons of religious ‘progress’ in Java. A British Pathé newsreel depicts a marionette representing the queen visiting a London exhibition of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, held in London. One shot shows wayang golek puppets of Hanoman, Semar and a king (possibly Kresna) conferring among themselves. ‘The Javanese puppets got quite excited by the royal visit’, the narrator tells us (‘Puppets’ 1947). The purported awe of royalty of the rod puppets signals a British desire for return to the pre-War colonial order.
She did not intend to inspire interest in Javanese culture. Just the opposite in fact, as she reported in a 1934 newspaper interview. ‘She was a little chagrined and jealous of a group of Javanese dancers who held forth in a tiny theatre under the Eiffel Tower. ’29 ‘Javanese dance’ was for Mérode an opportunity to fashion yet another elaborate hat, another way to capture the public’s eye. Mérode’s fin-de-siècle detachment from Java is the contraposition to the twentieth-century practitioners who embodied Java in performances of Otherness.
Custom and taboo have stood in the way of radical experimentation with wayang in Java until recent decades. No such restrictions impinged on European modernists. Wayang provided European modernists an iconographic alternative to naturalism. An early instance of this is Javaborn symbolist Jan Toorop’s pencil and crayon drawing De Drie Bruiden (The Three Brides, 1893). Toorop’s drawing references wayang’s articulated arms, extended necks, profiled heads and the spatial symmetries of puppets arrayed at the screen.