In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Malay Theatre: Intangible Cultural Heritage and Islam: Wayang Kulit Kelantan and Mak Yong by Kathy Foley and Patricia Hardwick, and: Tradition in Transition: Intangible Heritage in South and Southeast Asia
  • Maho A. Ishiguro
MALAY THEATRE: INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE AND ISLAM: WAYANG KULIT KELANTAN AND MAK YONG. Curated by Kathy Foley and Patricia Hardwick. Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University. 02-06 2017 and

A series of exhibits on Malay theatre culture and Indonesian wayang traditions were presented on four campuses across the United States from November 2015 until June 2017. I was fortunate to be able to participate in two of these exhibits as an audience member and performer during one. The first event was held at Hofstra University in November, sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology, Music, and Asian Studies and the Hofstra Cultural Center. The second event was held at Yale University, supported by the Institute of Sacred Music and Whitney Humanities Center. Two other exhibits were presented in 2015 at UC Santa Cruz and in 2016 at the East-West Center at the University of Hawai'i. The curators, Kathy Foley and Patricia Hardwick, focused on wayang kulit kelantan, a shadow puppetry tradition from the Malaysian state of Kelantan; mak yong, a form of dance drama also from Kelantan; as well as Indonesian puppetry traditions, particularly Sundanese wayang golek. The curators shared discourses on how these two performing art forms have developed historically as distinct cultural practices, as well as how the art forms, practitioners, and deepening Islamic climate in Malaysia and Indonesia affect artistic performance today (Fig. 1). [End Page 216]

Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Dalang Eyo Hock Seng as a Chinese Buddhist can still perform traditional wayang kulit kelantan with its opening rituals, while his Muslim Malay peers have been banned from performing traditional wayang by the fundamentalist government of Kelantan State. (Photo: Courtesy of PUTRA, ASWARA)

These four joint exhibits of Malay and Indonesian culture contained particular elements that facilitated their well-rounded portrayal of the history, tradition, evolution, and current practice of the art forms. For example, the curators designed the exhibits to include paper discussions, showcase visual objects, and share performances of theatre, dance, and martial art forms. Through these multifaceted presentations, Foley and Hardwick succeeded in communicating with diverse audiences—students and scholars of religion, anthropology, music, dance, museum studies, and Southeast Asian studies; as well as the wider university communities—about Malay and Indonesian performing arts and the challenges arts practitioners face today as the result of current social, religious, and political movements in these two geographic regions.

In the following paragraphs, I share some of my own experiences at these exhibits. The first, "Malay Theatre: Intangible Cultural Heritage and Islam: Wayang Kulit Kelantan and Mak Yong" was hosted by Yale University. The opening day of the exhibit began with presentations by the curators. Hardwick discussed mak yong, which she defined as a [End Page 217]

Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Mak yong was banned in the 1990s from public performances in its home state (Kelantan, Malaysia) so practitioners like Che Mat (rebab [spike fiddle player]) and dancer Fatimah Abdullah (foreground, leading group) migrated to Kuala Lumpur or Penang to teach in higher education their art that was banned in its home territory. (Photo: Courtesy of PUTRA, ASWARA)

dance-drama with pre-Islamic roots and focused on the specific tradition of mak yong-main 'teri, a healing ritual for those experiencing physical and spiritual suffering. Such rituals are viewed as fostering a bridge to the spiritual world, leading to contestation in the increasingly conservative and scripture-based Islamic climate today in the state of Kelantan. Hardwick addressed the mak yong practitioners' creative responses as they negotiated with such socio-religious and political pressures from the state. Foley discussed how wayang kulit kelantan shares characteristics with both island and mainland Southeast Asian shadow puppetry traditions, and how this tradition has similarly evolved in response to the Islamic revival.

After the presentations, the audience and discussants walked through a narrow hallway in the Whitney Humanities...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 216-221
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.