Wayang Kulit - Photo Tentrem Yogyakarta - RCMC

Eva Christiane von Reumont

MA Thesis | Applying 'Western' Conservation Ethics onto Javanese Wayang Kulit

Survey on Current Strategies - Including International Field Study about Innovations, Boundaries and Inconsistencies


Javanese Wayang Kulit (shadow play) Puppet Theatre became part of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity from UNESCO in 2003. Its practice dates back between 1000-1500 years. The stories combined the knowledge of Java's ancient heritage with Buddhism, Hinduism, and mystical Islam. During each performance these insights of Javanese philosophy are related to issues of contemporary every-day life and politics.

Wayang Kulit figures have a thin, virtuously perforated parchment support. Their average size is about 50 cm high and 40 cm wide. The largest figures can reach over one metre in height. They are painted on both sides with a ground layer, colourful paint layers and occasional gilding. This creates an opaque shadow which is projected onto a screen. Until the 1990s the binding media consisted of a protein glue. The hygroscopicity of the parchment and the protein-based paint layers has lead to a loss of adhesion between the two, so that the paint layers of many puppets are currently flaking and endangered to fall off. Therefore the following questions arose: Are museums aware of this matter? If yes, do they consolidate the paint layers and which method of storage is best under the given circumstances?

A European museum field-study was to reconsider options, responsibilities and opportunities for Wayang Kulit collections. Beyond noting down practical answers regarding convenient methods for storage, the goal was also to find collections which can be used as a reference point for others in regard to the knowledge gaps concerning the puppets individual character and geographical origin. The information gathered during the field-study was evaluated in the light of an active exchange of knowledge with scholars and students of the Universitas Gajah Mada in Yogyakarta, Central Java. 

By Eva Christiane von Reumont
MA Thesis in Conservation-Restoration of Paintings and Sculptors
Bern University for the Arts
Supervisors: Dilp.-Rest Nathalie Baschlin, Prof. Dr. Andreas Schoon
January 2017