The Mingei features shadow puppets

This is the front view of a shadow puppet: “Tree of Life” (Kayon or Gunungan), late 20th century Java, Indonesia. Painted parchment, hide and bone. A gift from Edward Inskeep. (photo by Katie Gardner)

The Mingei features shadow puppets

The Mingei International Museum has opened an intimate installation of shadow puppets in its Warren Theater Gallery.

Shadow puppet performances have been a highly-refined and complex storytelling tradition in parts of Indonesia for hundreds of years. Known as wayang kulit, these flat puppets are cut and punched from water buffalo hide and then colorfully painted, usually on both sides. Sticks or handles made from water buffalo horn or wood, attached to the base and limbs of each puppet, enable it to come to life in the hands of the dhalang, or puppeteer, who sits behind a cotton screen and manipulates the puppets while narrating a story.

The back view of “Tree of Life.” (photo by Katie Gardner)

This installation in the museum’s Theater Gallery features approximately 30 puppets which depict the vast repertoire of heroes and heroines, demons and pranksters featured in the great Hindu epics, the “Mahābhārata” and “Rāmāyaṇa,” as well as local gods and mythical subjects. Puppet performances provide entertainment, a sense of community, as well as an opportunity for sacred and secular instruction. Traditional performances are always accompanied by a gamelan, a musical ensemble comprised of gongs, drums, xylophones and stringed instruments.

Located in San Diego’s Balboa Park, Mingei International Museum collects, preserves and exhibits “art of the world, art of the people,” including folk art, craft and design from all eras and cultures of the world. A non-profit institution funded by admission, individuals, and community support, the museum offers inspiring exhibitions and diverse educational programs to more than 100,000 visitors a year. Institutional support for Mingei International Museum is provided in part by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture. Visit

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