Academic journal article About Performance

Performances of East Javanese Wayang and the Possibility of "Internal Otherness" in Contemporary Java 1

Academic journal article About Performance

Performances of East Javanese Wayang and the Possibility of "Internal Otherness" in Contemporary Java 1

Article excerpt

Recent writing on culture in contemporary Indonesia pays most attention to some aspect of what Brett Hough, in his stimulating working paper, calls "the process of appropriation and recontextualization of cultural forms within rituals of state as one means of maintaining and reinforcing ideological control" (Hough 1992: 2; see also, inter alia, Pemberton 1994). I myself became an entirely conscious participant in this process when, starting in July 1990, I began acting as a consultant on a project funded by the Ford Foundation to document, preserve and study the disappearing wayang traditions indigenous to East Java. The project was based at the state college of the performing arts, STSI, in Surakarta. Lecturers from the department of puppetry at STSI were to receive training in "performance studies" methodology from me as we attended, recorded and documented performances of wayang in the East Javanese style over a period of six months. Reports would then be compiled, a seminar for researchers and their subjects held and something would hopefully have been done both to "upgrade" the methodological capacities of lecturers in the Jurusan Padalangan at STSI Surkarta and to "preserve" (melestarikan) East Javanese wayang. During 1990 and 1991 the research team and I watched some twenty wayang performances in Jombang, Malang, Mojokerto, Lumajang and Surabaya, fully documenting and filming about half of these. The reports prepared by the project will be full of detailed information about performers and performances of East Javanese-style wayang. The information we appropriated is already being put to use, by one member of the team, for example, who has been making East Javanese-style puppets for sale in Jakarta, and presumably, to the extent that future graduates of STSI Surakarta who may one day take up positions of cultural authority in East Java as Depdikbud officials sitting on festival and cultural competition (lomba) juries will learn from us what East Javanese wayang "should" look like, the Proyek Penelitian Wayang Jawa Timuran will have made its contribution to extending the New Order state's hegemony over the arts.

My hope is, however, that even though our appearances and appropriations in East Java may have stimulated local East Javanese anxieties about what the clown Bagong, in a wayang performance I will discuss in a moment, called the cultural "colonisation" of his local art form,2 another lesson can be drawn from the project. It is not that observers, whether STSI lecturers or Western researchers, exaggerate the significance and power of the cultural policies of the New Order state. Rather, to focus too exclusively on the dimension of cultural change in which the state's hegemonic and deleterious role is most visible blinds us to other important dimensions of what is happening culturally in Indonesia today. And it serves in a very real way to legitimate further the cultural categories of the state itself, i.e., those of "national" versus "regional" culture, of "tradition," "preservation" and "development."

The fact is that, with or without interference from the state, dalang and musicians in East and Central Java have themselves been appropriating and carrying off the other's music, speech and movement styles for decades, if not centuries (see Sutton 1991). Whereas we, members of the research team, were anxious to record "East Javanese wayanjj before it was "too late," what we discovered was that not only were there several sub-regional styles, peculiar to Malang, Mojokerto and the Surabaya area respectively, but each of these was already a hybrid of East and Central Javanese performance elements (see ibid.: 123 and 236 passim). The hybrid character of their performance art was not what most concerned the performers we spoke to, however. Although many of them belonged to organisations which, true to New Order institutional practice and cultural policy, sought to "preserve" "authentic East Javanese" culture, their main worry was the commercial viability of their art. …

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