Asia Pacific or East Asian Band and Stage Makeup

How Javanese rod puppets help to create Character and Role

I have loved and played with puppets since I was a child. I am really fascinated with these wayang golek (puppet theatre) puppets at the Hands On Base room at the Horniman today. The first one almost looks real. This is a makeup look I’d like to achieve. Anyone up for it?

These puppets are carved from hardwood, then painted. These puppets are called rod puppets because of the construction.Their clothes are embroidered silk, batik and sequins as per the vintage poster for fabric dye.

The first one, I especially like. Very white face, obviously a noble lady, from the look of the fancy headgear. The eyes are very slanted and of course perfectly symmetrical. The face is slim and oval, the mouth small. The nose has been knocked off in the years of use and abuse, but would have been small and slim too, just by proportion. The eyelashes have been drawn on, top and bottom lids, and the eyebrows long and arched, reaching to the temples. She would belong to the refined characters category. They have white faces, bowed heads, and small and downcast eyes. They move in slow, gliding motions and speak in low, melodious voices. Their language is polite, and the thoughts they express are complex. Heroes and heroines are usually of this type.

There are five kinds of characters: refined, semi-refined, strong, emotionally uncontrolled and special.

The second picture above is some kind of simpleton judging by the bowl-like cap. He may or may not be mean but he will get someone or himself into trouble. With his upside down V eyebrows and snake-like eyes with tiny pupils and a squashed down facial proportion, he is quite believable. He is semi-refined. This is because he has a pink face. He has a  slightly more upright head and small eyes that gaze straight forward. He can move in quick but measured steps and speaks in a high-pitched voice.

The third picture above is a merchant or artistic type, the villain, possibly the love interest of the noble lady.  Just in case you are in doubt, he has a red teardrop painted onto the heart shape motif on his face, which is also a squashed heart shape. He also has upside down V theatrical eyebrows and snake eyes, but the quality of his costume defines his status on the stage.  He is also semi-refined.

I have no other photos of the other characters. Strong characters have deep coloured faces and large bulging eyes. Emotionally uncontrolled characters also have these features, but an added feature of an open mouth with fangs hanging out. Special characters are those like jesters, they are uncategorised and have to be custom-learnt by the puppeteer according to the story.Antique-Fabric-Dye-Label-Rare-French-Vintage-Old


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