Slamet Gundono (June 19, 1966 – January 5, 2014) was one of the finest and most innovative puppeteers of his generation. We were deeply saddened to hear of his passing.
On the forefront of Java’s dynamic performance scene, Gundono’s work was some of the most meaningful, provocative, original theatre today.
Gundono was a multi-disciplinary artist who drew on the long traditions of Javanese and Indonesian culture so as to reinvent and innovate within the field of interactive shadow puppetry. He collaborated with artists from other disciplines, and incorporated story telling, dance, film and multi-media. He also ran workshops to encourage experimentation.
Gundono developed a form of puppetry that involved clay, vegetables, sleep talking, water and condoms.
By using humour and satire in a non-confrontational way, he lent a voice to the socially marginalised and was popular with a widely based audience. Through his work he investigated social issues such as gender, exploitation, religious orthodoxy and damage to the environment.
Gundono used local idioms and simple means, and demonstrated that traditional cultural forms can be powerful vehicles for contemporary expression.
Gundono was born in Tegal, Central Java, to a family of dhalang artists (puppet shadow masters). Both his father, Ki Suwati and his brother, Ki Gunawan Suwati are classical dhalangs.
Gundono trained in theatre at the Jakarta Institute of Arts and at the Indonesia College of Arts, (STSI) Surakarta. He was strongly influenced by the wayang style of the late of Ki Narto Sabdo, who had a deeply spiritual approach to wayang kulit.
He took part in productions such as Opera Diponegoro, a dance-theatre choreographed by Sardono W. Kusumo performed in Jakarta in 1995 and in Solo and Semarang in 2001, and Passage Through The Gong by Sardono, performed in Surakarta and Japan.
He collaborated with Mugiyono (choreographer) and Dedek Wahyudi (composer) for the Chan Mu International Festival 1995 in Seoul and the Indonesia Dance Festival 1996 in Jakarta, and with the South Bank Gamelan, London, England.
Other works include performing wayang at the WOMAD festival in Reading and at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 1997 during the CIPA (Contemporary Indonesian Performing Arts) tour of England. He also starred in the 2006 Indonesian/Austrian co-production film Opera Jawa.
In 2004, Gundono was a fellow in UCLA’s Asia Pacific Performance Exchange (APPEX) and in 2005, received the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands (an award that is presented annually to artists, thinkers and cultural organisations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean for work of outstanding quality that has a positive effect on a wider cultural or social field).
“Gundono’s work is abstract, filled with comedy and informal interactions among audience and performer, drawing on a range of dramatic registers and the virtuosic talents of Gundono himself as actor, puppeteer, storyteller, and musician.”
Matthew Isaac Cohen (Fall 2007) “Contemporary wayang in global contexts.” (Critical essay) Asian Theatre Journal, Fall 2007 v24 i2 p338.
Gundono appeared with Gamelan Padhang Moncar in one of our pieces at the 2007 Yogyakart Gamelan Festival.
http://www.princeclausfund.org/en/what_we_do/awards/2005SLametGundono.shtml and http://www.wac.ucla.edu/cip/appex/2004/index.html
Photos: www.xanga.com and www.kapanlagi.com