The Great Steppe exhibition – MV Guided Tours

The on-going exhibition at Muzium Negara is a fascinating look at the ancient history and culture of the nomadic peoples from the Eurasian Steppe. During the Iron Age, around the 9th century BCE to the 2nd century CE, the Scythian culture flourished in the steppes and the exhibition showcases many artefacts from this culture. The showpiece of the exhibition is Altyn Adam, the Golden Man. This is the name given to a skeleton discovered together with 4000 gold ornaments in 1969 in a burial mound near Issyk. It has become the symbol of Kazakhstan, from where this exhibition originated.

Was the Golden Man really a man? Could it possibly have been a woman? Find out at Muzium Negara where Museum Volunteer guides will be on hand to take you on a guided tour through this exhibition. Our tours start on Thursday 10 October at 11:30 am and these will be on a daily basis (except Sundays) until the end of the exhibition on 31 October. Tours will also be conducted in French on two of these days. Please find the tour schedule at the link below (you will need to scroll down).

Tour Schedule: daily at 11.30 am between 10 October and 31 October 2019. The schedule is available at https://museumvolunteersjmm.com/mv-calendar/

Photographs of some exhibits are shown below. Find out their stories from the museum volunteers. Also find out the symbology behind the design of a yurt (tent) and the Zoroastrianism practices behind the burial of the Taksai princess. A touch-screen display examines some of the cultural practices such as the ritual to cut a rope when a child reaches the age of one.

The Steppe culture was equestrian-based and each piece of the saddle has symbolic meaning.
Akinak dagger decorated with heads of two griffins in profile. Dated to the 4th/3rd century BCE.
This necklace consists of pendants with garnet insets. The exquisite workmanship is dated to the 3rd/2nd century BCE.
An image of an elk in yellow metal framed by a metal ribbon. Dated to the 4th/3rd century BCE.

Exhibition: History of Malaysia-Sino Interactions

by Eric Lim

Recently, an exhibition with the theme “A History of Malaysia – Sino Interactions” was held at The Mines 2, Sri Kembangan, Selangor. It was organized by The Federation of Hokkien Associations of Malaysia and supported by the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China in Malaysia.

The exhibition highlighted the good ties between The People’s Republic of China and Malaysia. Diplomatic relations between the two countries started in 1974 when the then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak visited China and met Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Chou Enlai. Today, China is one of our major trading partners and our export to China has increased to record highs. Local Musang King durians and white coffee are sought-after items in China.

The exhibition covered four sections as listed below. Exhibits were mostly in pictures with information written in Chinese and English, plus a few records and publications.

  1. 2000 years of Malaysian-Sino interactions before 1974,
  2. Ethnic Hokkien Chinese and their roles in Malaysian-Sino cultural exchanges,
  3. A historical review of the 45 years of Malaysian-Sino diplomatic relations, and last but not least
  4. Sheer endeavour to reform the Divine Land of the People’s Republic of China and the formation of Malaysia.

Section 1

In this section, we learn about the historical and cultural interactions between the two countries that took place nearly 2000 years ago. The Chinese record, Di Li Zhi Hanshu, mentions a kingdom named Duyuan, which some researchers believed to be at Kuala Dungun. However, some researchers also believe that it could be located in Kra Isthmus. This was the earliest Chinese record of contact with the Malay Peninsula and it was during the reign of the Western Han Dynasty. In the Songshu record during the Yuanjia Period in the 5th Century CE, there were mentioned of two ancient kingdoms, Pohuang and Gantuoli. Other records include a book written by Zhu Fan Zhi in the Song Dynasty and Dao Yi Zhi Lue written by Wang Da Yuan during the Yuan Dynasty.

When Malacca grew in stature from a little fishing village to an international entrepôt during the 15th Century CE, China played an important part in its transformation. It was during the time of the Ming Dynasty that the Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He made visits to over 30 countries spanning the west Pacific to the Indian Ocean; Malacca was a major stopover for the Chinese. It was also during the Ming Dynasty that saw the earliest Chinese immigration to our country. Contributions of early Chinese immigrants were mentioned and one of the notables was Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1910). He was initially based in Penang but later shifted to Singapore when it became established as a well-known trading port. Later, he was summoned by the Emperor of China and was promoted to be the Minister of Agriculture, Industries, Roads and Mines for the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

Moving forward to the era of The Republic of China, the exhibition showed pictures of local support for the Chinese Revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and in the fight with the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937-1945. Tan Kah Kee responded positively by setting up funds for the Chinese to fight in the war. Besides parting with their money and valuables, Malayan Chinese were even willing to fight in the battlefields. One picture showed an advertisement in a Chinese newspaper of the recruitment of volunteer drivers and mechanics to serve in China. They were tasked to transport ammunition and supplies travelling the treacherous road linking Burma (Myanmar) and Yunnan with a section consisting of twenty-four bends.

Section 2

This section talks about the formation and role of the Federation of Hokkien Associations Malaysia (FHAM) and the contributions made by its members. The FHAM was formed in 1957 and today it comprises 211 member associations. Some of the well-known members include:

  1. Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961). He was born in Xiamen, Fujian Province and became a successful businessman, leader and philanthropist. He contributed financially to the building of Chinese schools in British Malaya, Singapore and China. Xiamen University is one of them. He returned to China in 1950 and passed away in Beijing.
  2. Robert Kuok. He was born in Johor Bharu in 1923 and he is of Fuzhou origin. In his autobiography, he mentioned his love for China. He helped China overcome its sugar crisis and he became one of the overseas capitalists who invested in China and helped its economic growth since the reform in 1978.
  3. YB Tan Sri Dato Michelle Yeoh. Born in Ipoh in 1962, she is of Hokkien descent from Tong An county. Michelle is an international actress who made her name first in Hong Kong acting with Jackie Chan in the “Police Story” movie series. She struck stardom in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” movie in 2000. Then on to Hollywood where she starred in a James Bond movie and the recent “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018).
  4. Datuk Lee Chong Wei. Born in Perak in 1992, his ancestral hometown is Nan’an. He is considered a legend in badminton having being ranked No.1 for a consecutive of 349 weeks. He won three silver medals in the Olympics. His rivalry with Lin Dan of China has always been heated topics for badminton fans all over the world.

The above is a highlight of just four of its members. The exhibition also included an expanded list of successful business people, educators, entrepreneurs and many more.

Section 3

Section 3 tells us of the relationship between both countries for over 45 years. In 1971, The People’s Republic of China or commonly known as China today, was admitted to the United Nations after the 21st time of voting on its application. Malaysia was one of the 76 countries who voted in favour of China. In May of 1971, Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who was then the chairperson of PERNAS led a team of delegates to the Canton Fair and they were received by the Premier of the State Council of China, Chou Enlai and the Vice Premier Li Xianian. This meeting marked the establishment of bilateral trade relations between the two countries. This was followed by a visit by Chinese officials to our country in the same year.

The historical visit to China by Tun Abdul Razak was held from 28 May to 2 June 1974. Malaysia was the first nation in Southeast Asia to take steps to normalise ties with China. Since then, every Prime Minister of Malaysia had paid official visits to China. For the record, Tun Dr Mahathir had made nine visits to China, the last time was in April 2019. Five of our Yang Di Pertuan Agongs also paid official visits to China. They include the late Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, Tuanku Ja’afar of Negri Sembilan, the late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah of Selangor, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin of Perlis and Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Trengganu.

Chinese leaders also made official visits to our country. They include Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, Li Peng, Zu Rongji, Wen Jiabao, Li Keqiang and the then Vice Premier of the State Council of China Deng Xiaoping who came in 1978. During his stay in our country, Deng paid respect to Almarhum Tun Abdul Razak at the National Mosque.

Section 4

The last section, starts by focussing on Modern China. In 1979, the setting up of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone marked an important step forward in China’s opening up to the outside world. On October 10, 1987 saw the opening of the first KFC outlet in Beijing. Then on 16 October 2003, Yang Liwei became the first Chinese “taikonaut” who completed China’s first space trip. At 8.00 pm on 8/8/2008, the opening ceremony of the 29th Summer Olympic Games was held at the Beijing National Stadium a.k.a Bird’s Nest. In 2022, Beijing will host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic for the first time. The last row of pictures at Section 4 put the spotlight on the Formation of Malaysia. It revealed some interesting information that may not be available in mainstream media. Some of these are highlighted below.

  1. It was said that just before our independence, over 2 million Chinese in Malaya felt neglected due to many restrictions when applying for citizenship. This prompted Lim Lian Geok to set up the National Congress of Chinese Societies at a gathering held at the Chin Woo Stadium; it generated support from Chinese all over Malaya. A memorandum was signed by 1,094 Chinese associations. In it was a demand for constitutional reform with three main suggestions – Chinese language as an official language, adoption of the principle of Jus Soli and equal rights and obligations. It further stressed that it was “reflecting the views of Chinese opinion generally in the country”. Chinese Malayans were defined as Chinese who treated this country as their permanent homeland. This was a significant event of Chinese awakening in the history of Malaya. 
  2. Did you know that the first Alliance rally was held on 20 January 1955 in Kajang, a town where the Chinese were the majority?
  3. The first general election in our country was held on 27 July 1955 and the Alliance Party won 51 out of 52 seats. However, only 20% of the population were eligible voters, and out of this number, Chinese voters were a mere 11% as compared to 84% of Malay voters. With that in mind, UMNO demanded to contest in 90% of the seats. The move was opposed by Tunku who had threatened to resign, and after negotiations, it was decided that UMNO would contest in 35 seats, MCA in 15 and MIC in 2.
  4. The first day cover to commemorate the Independence of Federation of Malaya on 31 August 1957 shows a picture of three men – Malay, Chinese and Indian, representing the three main races in our country. A closer look shows Chinese characters written on the left side of the envelope.
  5. The Declaration of Independence was made available in three different languages, namely English, Chinese and Jawi and it was signed by Tunku Abdul Rahman. The Chinese version is believed to be the only one available in the world apart from similar ones in China. It ends with the following “….with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice”.
  6. A patriotic song entitled “Song of a New Born Malaya”. The lyrics tell about the deep feeling of love for the Motherland and the earnest hopes for the new-born nation. This song was discovered in Broga New Village.

The exhibition provided a good understanding of the relationship enjoyed by both countries. It also highlighted the contributions of local Chinese to Malaysia and their fostering of greater relationships with The People’s Republic of China.

Sunken Treasure Exhibition

The ongoing exhibition ‘Sunken Treasure: The Underwater Secret’ displays artefacts from eleven shipwrecks from around the waters of Malaysia. It ends on 31 October; do drop by the exhibition at Muzium Negara.

On display are a number of blue-and-white pieces from a collection of 24,000 recovered from The Diana. This ship belonged to an agency house based in Calcutta (Kolkata) owned by John Palmer. She was licensed to the East India Company and was used to make the trade run between India and China. Having delivered cotton and opium to China, she was on the journey back laden with ceramics, silk and tea when she hit some rocks and sank off the coast of Melaka. She was found on 21 December 1993, 178 years after sinking.

Blue-and-white plate from The Diana

Ceramic trinkets recovered from The Diana

The Royal Nanhai, dating circa 1460, was discovered off the coast of Kuantan in 1995. Salvage of this 28-metre Southeast Asian vessel was completed in May 1998 yielding 21,000 pieces of ceramics. While most of the ceramics were from the Si Satchanalai kilns in Thailand, four Chinese and two Vietnamese blue-and-white pieces were found concealed below the floorboards.

An artist’s impression of the Royal Nanhai

A celadon Si Satchanalai plate from the Royal Nanhai

The Desaru was a Chinese vessel dated to 1845 that sank off the coast of Johor, near Desaru. It was a narrow ship, 30 metres in length and 7 metres wide, made of pine and cedar. Salvage recovered Chinese ceramics with a large number of blue-and-white spoons.

A brass iron from the Desaru

A brown-glazed storage jar covered in barnacles recovered from the Desaru

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Kamcheng Guan from the Desaru

Peking man disappears

by Maganjeet Kaur

A pharmacy may seem an unusual place to look for petrified fossils but palaeontologists in China used to frequent these shops to get leads on possible sites for archaeological digs. This is because farmers coming across ‘dragon’ bones would sell them to medicine shops where they were pounded into a remedy for a wide range of ailments. The palaeontologists recognised that these dragon bones were in actuality fossils of extinct animals. Peking man was discovered through such a lead.

In 1923, Otto Zdansky, an Austrian palaeontologist, unearthed a rich hoard of fossils at Chou Kou Tien (now Zhoukoudian), which is located around 50 kilometres southwest of Peking (now Beijing). The hoard consisted of at least twenty species of animals, majority of which are extinct. This impressive find was made momentous by two small teeth – a molar and a premolar. The teeth were those of a hominid (primitive man) said to have lived around 500,000 years ago (Chinese scientists later revised this to 700,000). The moniker ‘Peking man’ was coined. The importance of Peking man prompted the establishment of a formal programme to continue the exploration at Chou Kou Tien. The programme was led by the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Zhoukoudian site

Further excavations led to more hominid finds. In 1929, Pei Wen Chung found the first complete skull. By 1937, the collection of bones had grown to represent 40 separate individuals – men, women, and children. These individuals were all part of a single population group. Finding an array of bones which represents a single population is very rare and this further illustrates the importance of Chou Kou Tien. Peking man is not so much an individual but rather an epithet used to represent this population. Although initially given a separate genus, Sinanthropus pekinensis, Peking man is now accepted within the genus Homo with the species name Homo erectus Pekinensis.

Replica of five skulls found at Chou Kou Tien

Excavations had to be halted in 1937 because of growing tensions between the Chinese and Japanese. The PUMC had so far escaped raids by the Japanese as the institution was American; Japan was not at war with America. However, there was a growing sense of danger and in 1941 this became so pronounced that the Chinese appealed to the Director of PUMC to send Peking man to the US for safekeeping. This, the Director was reluctant to do as the understanding between PUMC and the Rockefeller Foundation was that all finds from Chou Kou Tien would remain in China. However, in August 1941, the Chinese managed to persuade the American ambassador to ship out the fossils.

Due to some unknown delay, the fossils were only prepared for shipment in mid-November 1941. They were wrapped in cotton and packed in small boxes. These boxes were then placed in two wooden boxes, similar to the footlockers used by the U.S. Marines for their personal effects. The footlockers were sent to the U.S. Marines barracks in Peking as the marines were entrusted with taking them safely out of China. The marines, though, were not aware of the contents of the footlockers or of their importance.

Replica of a footlocker in which Peking man was packed

The marines were to rendezvous with the SS President Harrison, which had been commissioned to transport them to Manila and which was due in the port of Chingwangtao (now Qinhuangdao) on 8 December. But time had run out. Japan bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December and the two countries were now at war. American property and personnel were no longer inviolate. The SS President Harrison, captured by the Japanese near the mouth of the Yangstze River, never made it to Chingwangtao. The footlockers are believed to have reached Camp Holcomb, a U.S. military base in Chingwangtao. However, this camp was taken over by the Japanese on the morning of 8 December. The Peking man fossils disappeared, never to be seen again.

Camp Holcomb, U.S. Marine base, the last know location of Peking man

With the fossils missing, what is being displayed at the ongoing exhibition at Muzium Negara? The team at PUMC had photographed the fossils, made detailed drawings, and created casts. These had been safely taken out of China. The artefacts at Muzium Negara are replicas of the Peking man fossils, recreated from the casts. Also displayed at the exhibition are replicas of skulls from Upper Cave, located southwest of the Peking man site. These are skulls of humans (Homo sapiens) that lived 30,000-10,000 years ago. They were packed together with the Peking man relics and, hence, suffered the same fate. Do visit the exhibition which ends on 16 June 2018. See how Peking man looked like. Learn to differentiate Homo erectus from modern Homo sapiens. Understand the environment in which Peking man lived and the animals with which he shared this environment. Appreciate the tools they made and how they controlled fire. Learn about other archaeological sites in China, from Palaeolithic to Neolithic. Find out the earliest known location where shoes were worn.

A reconstruction of Peking man by Harry Shapiro. Peking man was short, muscular, and broad-shouldered. He had a low brow which projected prominently just above the eyes. His skull was flat and small compared to modern humans. His neck was thick, almost bull-like. His arms, which reached his knees, were longer than his legs.

In retrospect, it may have been better to have left the fossils in PUMC and allow the Japanese to acquire them. The Japanese were aware of these fossils and came looking for them on the morning of 8 December. Some of the Chou Kou Tien fossils of lesser importance had been left behind and the Japanese confiscated these. After the war, the Americans found these fossils at Tokyo University and returned them to China. The Japanese would not have destroyed Peking man as they had wanted the fossils for their own research and study. If taken by the Japanese, the fossils would have been, in all likelihood, eventually recovered. Over the years, some have claimed to either know the location of the fossils or to have them in their keeping. These claims were made mostly by people seeking huge rewards. The leads were followed up but did not pan out. Among the latest claims is that Peking man is buried under an asphalt parking lot in Qinhuangdao (formerly Chingwangtao).

The environment Peking man lived in, shared with animals now extinct

Primary source: Shapiro, Harry L. (1976) Peking Man: The Discovery, Disappearance and Mystery of a Priceless Scientific Treasure, Suffolk: Book Club Associates.

The Tatars in Poland

The Tatars were a Turkic-speaking nomadic tribe occupying northeast Mongolia and the area around Lake Baikal before being consolidated into Genghis Khan’s army in the early thirteenth century. Genghis Khan’s army united many Turkic as well as Mongol nomadic tribes and he mobilised this army to conquer a large part of Eurasia. Although his army was a fusion of two different language-speaking groups, the invaders in Europe became associated with ‘Tatar’ or ‘Tartar’. They were also identified with the Golden Horde, originally a Mongol Khanate founded by Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan.

An ongoing exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum titled ‘The Tatars: Muslims in the Republic of Poland‘ explores the lives of the Tatars in Poland through photographs and drawings. The exhibition is located at the open space outside the main galleries and will run until 30 April 2017.

The Bohoniki Mosque, a wooden mosque dating to the 19th century

 

Kuala Lumpur – Masa Berlalu

by Bahiah Ismail

It is truly amazing to see how far the country has come since the days of Merdeka/ Independence, with Kuala Lumpur paving the way at the forefront of the transformation. In what is considered to be a relatively short period of just 60 years, continuous innovations and developments have changed much of this ever-lively city, yet the thriving local culture can still be found preserved in the many familiar nooks of the city in which they were first created.  All these are spectacularly captured through the many vibrant photos at the exhibition, cleverly composed to compare the KL of yesteryear with the KL of today.

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Sungai Gombak at the back of Sultan Abdul Samad building

In some of the showcased pieces, for example the photographs along Gombak River and of Jalan Tun Perak, the open skies in the background are replaced with more prominent physical elements of architecture and expanding public amenities, while horse-drawn or man-powered modes of transportation in the foreground are replaced with modern motorized vehicles, with home-made Proton and Perodua cars (both unabashedly mentioned here with a hint of national pride) cruising alongside their imported counterparts. Other pieces, such as shots of Petaling Street, show that some of the activities there have remained and have grown, indicating that they continue to be a strong element of the community. Another beautiful aspect to note is that many historical buildings have been preserved as focal points of the city, as clearly seen in some the photographs of the present.

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Central Market at Jalan Hang Kasturi started as a wet market

On the other hand, there are also pieces that bring some contrast to the above, such as the one of the Pudu Jail, captured in its previous entirety in an old sepia photograph and showcased against a current shot of its now solitary front gate, which was decidedly conserved from the demolition works making way for a new development there, resembling a still-dutiful guardsman defiantly standing at attention facing the oncoming busy traffic. The image is somewhat reminiscent of the Porta de Santiago of the A’ Famosa Fort in Melaka; perhaps, as the saying goes, just another example of history repeating itself: both gates are the only saved remnant of their respective infamously intimidating walled-structure of the past, although the major difference here being that the former was meant to keep people in whereas the latter to keep people out.

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Pudu Prison at Jalan Hang Tuah. Today, only the main gate and a small part of the exterior wall remains.

Lastly, just to mention so as not to be missed, is a wall-sized, intricately detailed, hand-drawn, pencil-sketched birds-eye-view of the streets of KL, quietly standing near the back of the exhibition. Do stop a while to “walk” through this map and discover the various social characters and cultural focal points which can be found in real life around KL.

From majestic old photographs capturing the grandeur and heritage of Malaysia’s history in black & white and hues of sepia, to the colourful and inviting snapshots portraying the unique melting pot of culture that has become the celebrated identity of Malaysia today, this temporary exhibition is definitely worth a catch while it’s here, to add a spice of flavour to the tour of the museum.

Map of Jalan Petaling, Jalan Sultan and adjacent streets, drawn by Gan Sze Hooi

Symbolism Behind the Screen

Muzium Negara has, in its collection, around 500 wayang kulit (shadow play) puppets and 200 of these are currently on display at an exhibition titled ‘Symbolism Behind the Screen’. There are also puppets on loan from Fusion Wayang Kulit that depict characters from comics and science fiction. Do take the time to visit the exhibition which runs until 28 February 2017 at Muzium Negara.

In a wayang kulit performance, the puppeteer (known as Tok Dalang) manipulates the puppets in a raised hut which has a white screen stretched across the front hiding him and the puppets from view of the audience.  A lamp behind the puppets casts shadows on the screen and this is the basis of the performance.

The wayang kulit is considered a microcosm of the universe while the Tok Dalang, manipulating the puppets, is taken as symbolising God. Dalang means ‘priest’ in Sanskrit; the Tok Dalang was also trained in magic rituals and many dalang functioned as bomoh or practitioners of Malay magic. In fact, in days gone by, the Wayang Kulit was not just a performance art but was also used in spirit exorcism ceremonies. In the wayang kulit universe, the sun is represented by the lamp while banana trunks, used as a resting place for the puppets, represent the earth. Humans perceive the universe through the screen.

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Behind the screen. The diorama shows the Tok Dalang in the process of placing the puppets on the banana trunks. The ‘good’ puppets will be placed on the trunk on this right while the ‘evil’ puppets will be placed on his left.

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Example of a ‘pohon beringin’

Perhaps the most important prop is the pohon beringin (tree of life) which represents all life in the universe. This tree, seen both at the start and end of the story, symbolises the start of the universe and the end of the world. The tree is divided into three parts: the top represents the sky and includes motifs of birds, the middle represents earth and includes animals, while the bottom represents the supernatural world.

 

A touch-screen kiosk at the exhibition provides substantial information on the symbolism behind the rituals conducted before, during, and after a performance. For example, a feast is held during the ‘theatre opening ceremony’ in order to ensure the performance goes well. During this time, the musical instruments are blessed so that they will succeed in attracting and holding the attention of spectators. An offering  consisting of 25 items placed on a large tray is also made.

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Pak Dogol, a Kelantan Wayang Kulit character that bears similarities with the Javanese Semar. This character is portrayed with a shaved head and a prominent high-bridged nose. His only clothing is a pair of long trousers which does not cover his distended stomach, thus revealing a protruding navel. He carries a parang golok.

Apart from the conventional wayang kulit characters, i.e. Sita Dewi, Sri Rama, Hanuman, and Ravana, the exhibition also displays a host of other puppets including demonic and animal characters as well as the Punakawan (e.g. Semar) that provide comic relief. Wayang Kulit’s foray into science fiction started with the the production of the ‘Peperangan Bintang’ performance inspired by the Star Wars movies. Its success spurred a new line of puppets including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Flash. These are also on display.

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A selection of puppets from the Wayang Kulit Gedek, one of the five wayang kulit types showcased at the exhibition. From left to right: Puteri Suni, Atung, Pak Tam, and a Hulubalang (palace guard)