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Can Star Wars save the traditional art form of wayang kulit?

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​Can Star Wars save wayang kulit, a traditional shadow-puppet show that is widely seen to be a dying art?

Traditional Indonesian and Malaysian shadow puppetry was once at the centre of Southeast Asian art and culture but its popularity had waned over the years.

Wayang Kulit is on UNESCO’s list of “masterpiece” human art forms, but radio, TV, and now digital entertainment increasingly relegate the genre to tourist consumption or the odd cultural show.

But three Malaysians are hoping to reverse that trend with the help of Star Wars and other pop-culture themes including Superman and Batman.

Friends and Star Wars buffs Chuo Yan Ping, a designer, art director Teh Take Huat, and master puppeteer Muhammad Dain Othman have performed a section of the original 1977 Star Wars film as a shadow-play about a dozen times the past two years. They invested $10,000 of their own money.

Mr Chuo first crafted shadow puppets based on the popular movie franchise for an art exhibit a few years ago. 

He said his research then educated him about the concerns about the state of the art.

Mr Chuo said: "At first it was all about Star Wars, but later I learnt how Wayang Kulit was a dying art form after speaking to many master puppeteers, and I felt sad.

"All of us felt a responsibility to do more for this part of Malaysian culture," he said.

Mr Chuo added that Star Wars was chosen as the theme due to its near-universal appeal, as evidenced by the frenzy surrounding the December release of the latest big-screen instalment, “Stars Wars: The Force Awakens. “Even my mom knows Darth Vader,” he said.

A recent performance in Kuala Lumpur square, Mr Muhammad Dain wears a sorong and works his puppets while sitting cross-legged behind the screen.

And what about that familiar baritone voice of Darth Vader? A sound engineer uses a laptop to make the puppeteer's voice more Vader-like and to replicate R2-D2's digital-beep mutterings.

The screen is also splashed with colourful lighting effects.

Mr Chuo said: “We see the audience happy and their perceptions about Wayang Kulit are changing, that it has legs.


Mohammad Sani Sukir, who brought his family to watch the show, raved afterward.“By combining two things, one old and one new, into one package, this increases the attraction of Wayang Kulit,” he said. - AFP


Star WarsVisual ArtsmalaysiaDarth VaderUncategorisedkuala lumpur