Indonesia – Ceremonial Masks & Puppets.

Traditional cultural performances using masks and ornately carved puppets, with their colourful, spookily-lifelike Topeng dance disguises, can be appreciated today as much as at any time in Indonesia’s history.

The performances allow an insight into the breadth and depth of art and culture across the Indonesian Archipelago, which boasts over 17,000 islands and an ever-expanding population nearing 270 million people.

Worn by costumed performers as they re-enact the myths and legends of spiritual heroes, kings and fabled gods, there is a delightful diversity of designs. I have often enjoyed looking out for them during the performances, in museums, as well as in bazaars and markets.

The masks and statue carvings of Java and Bali have particularly exciting designs, shapes and characters. Standing alongside textiles, hand-printed batiks, wayang goleks (wood-carved puppets), pagan icons, musical instruments, weaponry and artistic performances, the ‘Topeng Masks’ are as iconic as any other Asian handicraft.

The masks and puppets represent characters across a fusion of performing arts: for example, ‘traditional dance’, which has over 3,000 original dances from a host of ethnic groups, is divided into two genres – Court Dance and Folk Dance. Equally, ‘drama’, which covers an exciting blend of local art forms, is perhaps best known for the diverse Balinese movements that include hands, body and eye movements.

To the backing of the gamelan orchestras in Java and gender wayang ensembles in Bali, the performers can be masked dancers or wayang kulit (shadow puppets).

The country’s historic blend of cultural masks and puppetry exemplifies how important skilled artistry is to the region’s performance-based art forms. Immaculately carved and painstakingly painted, they are an art form in their own right.

These photos are a very small example of the extraordinary variety of Indonesian masks and puppets that transcend Indonesia’s 300 ethnic groups and 700 living languages.

Typifying the excitement and richness one of the world’s most diverse and colourful destinations.