Robotics keeps ‘shadow puppetry’ alive in Malaysia

STORY: Robotics is helping to keep ‘shadow puppetry’ alive in Malaysia

The art form known here as ‘wayang kulit’ was once popular across Southeast Asia

Location: Penang, Malaysia

It traditionally involves meticulous effort to craft puppet figurines out of buffalo skin

and lengthy rehearsals among dozens of artists

This modern animatronic show uses 3D-printed characters controlled by robotics

[Ahnaf Hakimi Ahmad, Creator of animatronic shadow puppet]

“Most of the teens and youths today lean more towards social media and television programs, some of them might not have ever seen a shadow puppet performance. So, with this animatronic shadow puppet show, it will be a new phenomenon for these youths, and be their first step towards discovering their interest in the heritage of shadow puppetry.”

Preserving the art has been harder in the Muslim-majority country

after criticism that the stories and characters were ‘un-Islamic’

They are often based on Hindu gods and epics like the Ramayana

The number of active shadow puppet troupes in Malaysia dwindled to around eight

After a ban on shadow puppetry in the 1990s in its home state of Kelantan

Moving forward, Ahnaf Hakimi said he would like to tell more stories of ordinary people

“This is still shadow puppetry even though it’s played by robots. The music, the concept, still uses the screen. There are more stories and music. So, on our part, we try to help and contribute because there are many songs and stories that we haven’t performed yet. We do have the scores, but we never played them, because I don't have people who want to learn. With this method, the culture of shadow puppetry can grow - not drastically, but the effort is there.”