One of the oldest forms of story-telling and entertainment in Indonesia is the famous shadow play. While this ancient tradition is inseparable from Indonesia’s cultural history, the country’s younger generations generally seem to have lost interest in this special form of puppetry.
Canadian Susan Allen, who has been a regular visitor to Indonesia since the early 1990s and is now based in Bali, is doing her part to make sure that this tradition is carried on.
More than that, she believes that learning through art and movement is essential for every child’s education.
Together with her Indonesian husband, Allen has opened the Yellow Coco Creative Nest, an open space that offers creative and entertaining programs for both kids and adults.
Named after its location in Nyuh Kuning (Yellow Coco) village, not far from Ubud, the husband and wife team have attracted visitors of all ages and nationalities since 2011.
Allen took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to the Jakarta Globe about how Yellow Coco came to be, why children should join her classes and what she envisions for the future.
For starters, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background? When did you come to Bali for the first time? What made you decide to stay?
I first came to Bali in 2005 to visit, then in 2006 with the Canada Council Grant for the Arts. I came together with [my husband] Susiawan to perform at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. We performed and gave a workshop in puppet making and playing. We decided to move here in 2007 when I got a position as a holistic educator at Pelangi School and later at the Green School.
You are mostly known for your shadow puppet performances. How did you get involved in this?
I was doing research in Java in 1991, and my focus was on how to use the arts as a tool in community-based environmental education. My university, the York University Faculty of Environmental Studies, had a partnership with ITB [Bandung Institute of Technology]. When I arrived in Bandung, I spoke to professors at ITB, who directed me to Susiawan and the organization Yayasan Anak Merdeka. He was a graduate of ITB Fine Arts who had focused his research on the same topic as mine. We met and collaborated on a project in Cirebon, where we incorporated various art forms in our work with local schools and street children.
From there, we began to wonder about the potential of utilizing shadow puppetry. Years later, after we had married and went to Canada, we started exploring shadow play as a contemporary form and tool for education with children. Our work was well-received and over the years we did more and more performances and workshops. By 2004, we had started our own company, “Me and My Shadows,” and were performing across Canada in festivals, schools, museums and parks.
How did you come up with the idea for Yellow Coco?
We had been living in Nyuh Kuning and over the four years we were there we felt a gap between the expats and local population. We felt the need for an arts community center where we could co-create activities to bring the two communities together and meet the needs of both. We also both felt strongly about the way in which both local, national plus and international schools were working with the arts and arts-based curriculum. Most still listed the arts as a separate subject of focus. Our approach, utilizing the arts as a tool in the development of multiple ways of learning, was not being used.
In addition, we believe the development of creativity is closely related to its sustainability. In practice, this answers the question: Creativity for what? In what direction? We want to nurture creativity toward wellness of ourselves, our relations and the planet. How can we use natural materials and recycled supplies to reuse as much as possible?
What kind of activities do you offer at Yellow Coco?
We offer Indonesian and English lessons through the arts, bilingual shadow puppetry programs, mask-making and play, drawing lessons, story theater, singing, drumming, dancing and much more for the kids.
Adult programs include authentic movement, expressive dance and drawing classes. We also offer teacher trainings in Multiple Intelligences approaches to teaching and learning, creativity, wellness and sustainability, shadow play as a tool in teaching and learning, drama and movement in environmental education, expressive arts and more. On a monthly basis, we perform a story orally or do a shadow play. We also invite artists, both local and non-local, to perform and give workshops in their art form.
By using shadow play as a tool for teaching, you are helping to keep this Indonesian tradition alive. Do you think Indonesia’s younger generation is neglecting its roots?
Indonesia is a vast archipelago — I wouldn’t attempt to make a statement about the youth across the country. But I do know that I have met some amazing youth who are digging into their roots and expressing themselves in contemporary culture. There are events like the Ubud Readers & Writers Festival, which supports youth, writing and expressive projects, and many more.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to have a garden of plants that can be used for natural dyes for batik and run a paper-making workshop with a young man who was a young boy in Bandung and attended Susiawan’s Yayasan Anak Merdeka. He now has his own paper-making business in Bandung!
We would also like to offer more family programming in yoga, dance and drama and have local Balinese youth teach skills in carving, janur creations and gamelan.
For more information, find Yellow Coco Creative Nest on Facebook or e-mail email@example.com