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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Prayer, Puppetry, and Politics: The World of Malay Performance Art [SEA]

“Kathy Foley, curator of Malay Theatre: Intangible Cultural Heritage and Islam, boasts decades of experience studying the art and theater of Indonesia and Southeast Asia. A trained performer in the art of wayang, traditional Indonesian mask and puppetry, Foley holds the distinction of being one of the first non-Indonesians to be invited to the prestigious all-Indonesia National Wayang Festival and has performed all across the United States. She currently serves as a professor of theater at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has curated exhibits of puppets and masks of Southeast Asia at such venues as the National Geographic Society and the East-West Center in Hawaii.

Patricia Hardwick, co-curator, also possesses an extensive background in the ethnography and culture of Southeast Asia. Her research focuses primarily on mak yong, a traditional form of Malaysian female dance drama. Hardwick frequently travels to Malaysia to conduct ethnographic fieldwork specializing in the field of sociocultural anthropology. Hardwick currently serves as an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Hofstra University.

Both Foley and Hardwick served as Fellows in Sacred Music, Worship and the Arts, at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. The pair’s joint exhibition, currently displayed in the Whitney Humanities Center, explores the traditional Southeast Asian art forms of wayang and mak yong, taking the viewer on a journey through the region’s deep history and culture. The exhibit features traditional puppets, attire and instruments from the Malay performance art and tracks the evolution of this art form and its cultural significance, especially in the face of growing opposition from fundamental Islamic governments.

I sat down with Foley and Hardwick on the eve of the exhibit’s opening to discuss the history of the art form, the political implications of their work and what they hope students learn from the fascinating world of traditional Malay theater…”

Read the full interview at the Yale Daily.

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