President Barack Obama has been called lots of things since he moved into the White House, but a sold out audience at Asia Society New York Friday night got a big surprise when he made an appearance as a puppet. Obama's cameo came during a performance of the ancient Javanese art of wayang kulit, commonly called shadow puppetry, which for centuries has been a way of telling stories, from myths and legends to topics of contemporary importance.
In his meeting with one the major Javanese clown characters, Bagong, Obama talked about spending four years growing up in Jakarta, and the clown gave him some budgeting advice — reallocate funds from war to arts and education. This scene, which was a comic interlude in the 3.5-hour performance by Ki Purbo Asmoro, in many ways exemplifies the art of wayang kulit. The puppeteer must be able to meld the story with music, comedy, local politics, philosophy and tradition. This dhalang (puppeteer) is perhaps Java’s most popular, easily garnering 3-4,000 attendees to his performances. At Asia Society, he was assisted by the expert simultaneous translation of Kitsie Emerson, 10 members of his Mayankara Gamelan troupe and 30 members of New York gamelan group, Gamelan Kusuma Laras.
Read The Village Voice's take on the evening here.
Video: Puppets and a President (3 min., 57 sec.)