Wayang Kontemporer – Innovations in Wayang Kulit


Miguel Escobar Varela

PhD defended at: 




Wayang Kontemporer – Innovations in Wayang Kulit is a born-digital, interactive work of scholarship on 21st century developments of one of the oldest theatre forms in Asia: Javanese Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet theatre). The book-length content is organized as chapters which can be read sequentially or as self-contained essays. Each chapter includes text interspersed with video and interactive features such as a tool-tip glossary and interactive navigation. The website (www.wayangkontemporer.com) also contains an interactive diagram for each of the 24 performances analyzed in this project, with links to longer explanations in the chapter texts.

This dissertation had three objectives:
1) To be the first comprehensive study of wayang kontemporer (contemporary versions of classical wayang kulit). The website is freely available in order to further disseminate knowledge about this theatre form.
2) To analyze new formal and thematic developments in wayang and to interpret what these developments say about sociocultural life in Java.
3) To reflexively develop a digital interface to communicate the outputs of the research process.

The wayang performances analyzed represent an inventory of creative possibilities and of positions towards sociocultural change. The main finding is that innovations in the aesthetic aspects of wayang do not necessarily correspond to progressive attitudes towards sociocultural change, as the aesthetic and thematic aspects of the performances are often disconnected. This apparent contradiction reflects a society in transition, where people are experimenting with different ways of combining tradition and new ideas.