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Cosmic Characters: Wood Puppets of Asia

January 20, 2019 - May 5, 2019

Wood puppets

Exhibition on view January 20 – May 5, 2019

East-West Center Gallery, Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Free admission, open to the public

Guided tours offered on Sundays at 3pm.

Puppet theatre presents the entire cosmos through character, color, story, sound, and movement. Distinct traditions are found throughout the Asia Pacific region, many of which have been influenced by shamanism, animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Local folklore is also incorporated and puppet performances are closely related to human dance-drama and mask dances. In many Asia Pacific cultures, puppeteers are associated with unseen, mystical, and divine powers as they animate a whole world created in miniature. This exhibition focuses on the three-dimensional wood puppets that demonstrate the following techniques: string puppets (marionettes), rod (stick) puppets, and glove (hand) puppets.

Through these performance forms stories come to life including the Hindu epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, Buddhist Jataka stories, and the chronicles and well-known Monkey King novel found in Chinese theatre traditions, as well as local folk stories. Indonesian puppetry also tells the arrival of Islam to Indonesia through the story of Amir Hamzah. Many of these puppet traditions are historically related to the royal courts, while other performances are derived from village performances. Even with roots in the royal courts, puppet performance is intended for the common people, instilling, re-informing, and enriching their lives with locally-based cultural values and beliefs. Puppet performance in Asia is appreciated and enjoyed by diverse audiences — from children to elders — with entertaining elements ranging from slapstick humor to deep, rich life philosophies and religious teachings.

More than 10 unique traditions from India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan are displayed. To honor our host culture, Hawaiian puppets are featured as well. These performance traditions are a place of intersection — a bridge between the past, present, and future — where the divine and human worlds meet and ancient stories are made relevant for the contemporary experience.


January 20, 2019
May 5, 2019
Event Category:


East-West Center


East-West Center Art Gallery
1601 East-West Road
Honolulu, HI 96848-1601 United States
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