Indonesian shadow puppets are intricately cut and beautifully painted — and then hidden behind a screen. Used to perform traditional folktales or stories from Hindu epics, these puppets are one of the most characteristic art forms of Indonesia.
The concept is simple: put a solid shape behind a transparent screen, shine a light through it, and you will create a shadow of the shape. You might want to introduce this idea first with simple paper shapes attached to craft sticks, or even with hand shadows. Just set up a paper or fabric screen (use your pocket chart stand) with an unshaded lamp behind it. Dim the lights in the room and demonstrate how well the shadows show up on the screen.
Shadow puppetry is found in many cultures. It’s often said to have originated in India (along with the epics which furnish many of the stories for shadow puppetry), but is found in China, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia. In Indonesia, a puppet master called a “dalang” creates the puppets from buffalo hide and puts on the performances, usually as part of a special occasion or ceremony. In modern times, shadow puppets of various kinds are also found in other parts of the world.
Learn about traditional shadow puppetry and then make your own shadow puppets with the help of these online resources:
- Playing with Shadows is a fine interactive site for exploring shadow puppetry. Check out The Science of Shadow Puppets, too. You’ll want to project this one from your computer or use your smartboard.
- Wayang Kulit explains the history of the shadow puppets in Java, with many photos.
- See some great pictures of traditional Indonesian shadow puppets to bring in more geography, and read some basic cross-cultural information about the art form here.
- A step by step lesson plan for making shadow puppets will lead your class through the steps.
- You might also try making a shadowbox theater.
- A study of light and shadow fits very well with this art lesson.
- As part of the planning of the puppets, this geometry lesson will offer practical and thought-provoking points to consider.