Indonesian Puppet Exhibit “Still/Moving” Opens at Mathers Museum of World Culture

November 20, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind – When does a puppet come to life? How can a culture be seen through performance? These are the questions that the Theatre and Museums class invites you to ponder while attending the new exhibit “Still/Moving” at the Mathers Museum of World Culture.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Dr. Jennifer Goodlander, who is trained in the Indonesian art of shadow puppetry as a dalang, or puppeteer. She works as a faculty research curator at the Mathers Museum and at the IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. She has spent more than two years in total researching and conducting fieldwork in China, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Dr. Goodlander was inspired to create this exhibit after touring seven museums in Indonesia this summer to see how wayang puppets were displayed. Wayang is an Indonesian word meaning both puppet and theatre. Dr. Goodlander wanted to question what connections exist between performance and objects in a museum setting. The collaborative nature of the project is similar to theatrical production and encouraged her to create a graduate level course in order to give a new practical outlet for graduate research. “It’s interesting to pair theory and history with a practical component. Reading about museums is one thing, but you learn much more by doing it (creating an exhibit) and then having to justify your choices.”

Students have the chance to put knowledge gained in course readings and by visiting the Indianapolis Children’s Museum into practice when designing their sections of the exhibit for the Mathers Museum. Bridget Sundin is a PhD student in Dr. Goodlander’s Museums and Performance class, “This class has covered a wide variety of topics from curating museum exhibits, to performing in museums, to other topics such as living heritage sites (such as Colonial Williamsburg).”

But why focus on two-dimensional clown puppets? “Our group chose to focus on clown puppets after hearing Jennifer perform informally one day in class. There was something magical about hearing her speak in the formal Indonesian language and then translating the lines into a comedic dialogue complete with gruff voices. We hope that patrons spend time laughing and enjoying the clown characters as well as learning more about how clowns are used as translators and social messengers,” Sundin concludes.

Besides clown shadow puppets, Still/Moving features sections on the dalang, Wayang Golek wooden puppets, and even gives participants the chance to build their own puppets.

Weiyu Li is part of the group providing patrons the chance to build their own puppets, “Our group wanted to embrace the modern aspect of wayang. To show it was entertaining and to enjoy the puppet making process” In actuality, wayang puppet construction is quite complex, no one person can handle it all. Many times the students and family of the master puppet maker will each have a part in the construction of the puppet. “We decided on a simplified process using pre-made outlines and cardboard. It’s up to you to decorate it any way you want. To create your own puppet is to create your own culture.”

The website of the Mathers Museums of World Cultures states they offer: “research and training opportunities for IU students, educational support and services for IU faculty and elementary/secondary school teachers, and family-friendly exhibits and programs.”

On December 3rd at noon, prior to the exhibit opening, Dr. Beth Kattelman will present a talk, “Scene at the Museum: Performing exhibits and exhibiting performance”. Says Kattelman, “Every artifact contains a story. A winnowing basket may conjure images of workers tossing grain in the hot sun. A pocket watch may bring to mind a 19th-century railroad conductor who had to make the trains run on time. A doll may have belonged to a young girl who eventually grew up to become the Queen of England. It is a curator’s responsibility to help unlock these stories and bring them to life for museum visitors.” The talk will explore the synergy between exhibits and performance, focusing in particular on how puppets are especially potent in their ability to evoke the stories of a specific time and place.

WHAT: “Still/Moving: Puppets and Indonesia” exhibit

WHEN: Public Presentations and Opening December 12 from 4:30-6pm. Exhibited until June, 2015 (Kattelman talk is Dec. 3 at noon)

WHERE: The Mathers Museum of World Cultures, 416 N Indiana Ave, Bloomington, IN 47408

COST: Free! The Mathers Museum can be found at: or call (812) 855-6873

For more information, contact Amy Osajima at or Jennifer Goodlander at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s