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The shadow theatre has a unique power of allure. More than any other theatrical genre, it has the real power to transport the public to a magical universe. Likewise what we call popular art, this type of theatre is also unseparable from religion. In contrast with what happens in the West, the shadow performances are not intended for children.
Figures are made of parchment though the original skin differs from country to country and even from one region to another region in the same country. In the shadow theatre, figures are just an element. The puppeteers and, in certain cases, the musicians are mainly narrators. The figures manipulation just illustrates what is told. Music is as important and shadow theatre always includes an orchestra.

Each of these aspects is shown in the present exhibition with a particular focus on the diversity of this theatrical style according to the countries where it is performed : China, India, Thailand, Cambodja, Indonesia, Malasia and Turkey. Being an Asian invention, with its origin found only in this continent, the shadow theatre also reached the latter country.

Troupes perform during festivities or in shows offered to deities in order to gain help and protection. The leather figures are endowed with a sacred power, are treated with due respect and representations have a shamanistic character.

In order to make the western public familiar both with stories that every Asian knows by heart and the diversity and richness of the shadow theatre figures, the present exhibition is arranged in the following sections:


This theatrical style still prevails in four Indian states : Karnatak, Orissa, Andra Pradesh and Kerala. One can note the great differences both in the form and the manipulation of shadows. This section also shows scenes taken from Ramayana and Mahabharata.



Here, visitors may detect differences between Java and Bali shadow theatres. Also represented are the clowns which enjoy great relevance. The repertoir is taken from Ramayana, Mahabharata and local stories. The section also shows oil lamps and a complete orchestra for the Balinese shadow theatre.



Strongly influenced by both the Thai and Javanese shadow theatres, we can find it in the Kelantam region, in northeastern Malasia . The repertoire is also taken from Ramayana to which pieces inspired on local legends were added. Characters in the latter are, however, modern.



Shadow theatres are almost identical in these two countries. We can find in both countries a distinction between the performances with big shadows, the so called Nang Yai (or Nang Sbek) which are not articulated and those with little articulated shadows or Nang Talung. The repertoire is taken from Ramakien and sometimes from Jataka, reports of Bhudda's bygone life. However it also adapts modern stories recoverd from cinema and television.



This is a comical theatre and, whatever the play, the main character is Karaghöz, who gives his name to this theatrical style. The repertoire is composed of simple stories, the plot being more important than the play itself. The stories are actually a pretext to produce comical situations and thus allow a good spirited replica. This theatre played a political and social role, similar that of the satirical press.



The shadow theatre is present in almost every Chinese province. This section shows an example of each one through the presentation of such episodes taken from mythology as Investment of Gods, historical romances such as The History of the Three Kingdoms or from phantastic literature, The History of the White Snake being just an example. Also on display manuscripts of plays and musical instruments used for the performances.


Objects are shown in their own context by means of documentaries on the shadow theatre shot in China and Indonesia by Sylvie and Jacques Pimpaneau, the exhibition's curators.