Objects from Java were among Frederick Horniman’s earliest collections. By 1901 there were model boats, horn hookahs, wooden cattle bells, a bronze sheep bell, an opium pipe and several knives from Java.
In 1923 the Museum purchased a group of Javanese objects from a Mr. E.T. Campbell. These included a set of carved wooden chessmen, 22 shadow puppets, four rod puppets and four very striking masks.
In that year, Fredrick’s son Emslie travelled through Bali, Java and Sumatra. From Java he brought back some photographs, and his letters to the curator were very evocative of his journey in an open top touring car.
In 1949 a collection of more than 75 shadow puppets was purchased from William Oldman, a dealer. In 1958 six more Javanese masks were acquired, this time purchased from Sotheby’s.
A small collection of masks, drawings and paintings collected in Bali by Beryl de Zoete in the 1930s was passed to the Museum after her death in 1962. More important than the objects was the enormous collection of photographs and film now held in the Museum’s library archive, which included some from Java.
It was not until 2001 that the Indonesian collections really began to develop again. This began with the acquisition of five rod puppets, made by puppeteer Pak Asep Sunandar Sunarya of Bandung and purchased specifically for display in an exhibition of puppetry.
A variety of other material has come in over the years from various sources, including examples of batik from Dr Minter-Goedbloed, Ann Douthwaite and the late Christopher Scarlett, formerly Chairman of the Anglo-Indonesian Society.
The Museum has recently been expanding its collection of batik from Java in preparation for a forthcoming display. In 2013 I made a study visit to Java, supported by a Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant, and filmed the process for the Museum.
Project Tobong is a new exhibition featuring Ketoprak Tobong Kelana Bakti Budaya, one of the few remaining ‘Ketoprak’ theatre troupes in Indonesia.
This community of travelling players performs traditional musical dramas through spoken soliloquy, dialogue and singing, using a ‘tobong’ - a portable bamboo structure.
Interest in traditional storytelling is lessenging, and audiences for Ketoprak are dwindling.
Project Tobong explores the players’ predicament by presenting a series of living pictures which use the language of Ketoprak (the costumes and postures of performance) to reference its own threatened status.