Puppetry performers unearth on the streets in the act of persevering the traditional art and introducing contemporary puppetry through Malaysia’s creative arts festival in Urbanscapes 2018. 

Malaysian Puppetry Association (MPA) is ready to shine under the streetlight by debuting in Malaysia’s longest-running creative arts festival for their first time. Dating back the country’s history, puppetry is an ancient art performance founded prior to the colonial times in Malaysia.

Founding members of MPA, Prof. Dr. Loy Chee Luen and Easee Gan, prepare themselves to reestablish the crafts and mastery of puppetry to the public. 

Puppets in Malaysia

Puppets come to life in many forms and the common ones in this country are glove puppet, rod puppet and shadow puppet. Glove puppet and rod puppet originated in China while shadow puppet–known as wayang kulit here–came from either Thailand or Indonesia. These shadow figures are made of animal hide, mostly cow skin to be molded and painted to their desired outcome.

Malaysia’s contemporary puppetry has started to develop since 1980s. While traditional puppetry is preciously paired with traditional music, contemporary puppetry uses modern musical instruments and various innovative styles. “Puppet theatre used to only feature puppets and figures but now we even have performers who are dressed in costumes as puppets on stage.” said Easee.

Prof. Dr. Loy shares that they source their puppets from everywhere like Kelantan to China. He continued, “Puppet costumes are all self-made. For handmade glove puppets, it would take around 6 to 8 hours to complete.”

A New Art Approach

Taking contemporary puppetry to another level, MPA is promoting this cultural art by using a transformative mobile cart as the stage. Easee explains that “we want to make art accessible to everyone so by having a mobile stage, we could move around in the city easily.”

In line with Urbanscapes’ theme of #REIMAGINEKL, MPA is presenting a puppetry story of Yap Ah Loy, the developer of Kuala Lumpur city in 19th century. Written and directed by Easee, ‘The Story of Ah Loy’, incorporates a time-travelling Ah Loy who appears in 21st Kuala Lumpur and searches for ways to save the modern city from crumbling. 

This street performance on cart would transcend language barriers and generation gaps as it uses no dialogue, only modern music and audience interaction in the street theatre. MPA also aims to foster unity through the representation of a Malaysian society through puppetry. “We want to make people to connect with our puppets. They are dressed from baju melayu to the traditional outfits of the Borneo indigenous tribes,” Prof. Dr. Loy points out. 

This year’s Urbanscapes will be held from 3 till 18 November all around Kuala Lumpur from Chin Woo Stadium to Medan Pasar and Petaling Street. Urbanscapes introduces their 2018 theme of #REIMAGINEKL with a diverse international music lineup,  audio-visual installations, art exhibitions, talks and performances. For more details on lineup and programs, visit Urbanscapes website here. 

Text by Jessy Wong • Photos by Malaysian Puppetry Association & Horng Yih Wong

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