Bank Negara Malaysia’s new art exhibition highlights wayang kulit

Bank Negara Malaysia's new art exhibition highlights wayang kulit
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Last Friday night (August 18, 2023), the award-winning Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery (BNM MAG) invited the Vulcan Post team for the unveiling of a new exhibition at its art gallery. 

Titled “GERAK BAYANG: The Art of Storytelling”, it’s a mixture of performance art, visual aesthetics, and literary creativity in one place.

As the name suggests, this exhibition revolves around the art of shadow puppetry, or better known by its Malay name wayang kulit

Speaking to Vulcan Post, the exhibition’s art curator, Siti Melorinda Khuzaina (Siti Melorinda), explained that this theme was chosen to showcase a combination of the traditional performative elements of wayang kulit and how it is portrayed in the fine arts industry. 

This is BNM MAG’s first physical art exhibition after the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was launched with a wayang kulit performance by Che Mohd Nasir, a renowned Adiguru Wayang Kulit. 

This exhibition presents the artistic prowess of 39 local and international artists, who contributed a total of 144 artworks. The lineup features notable Malaysian names like Nik Zainal Abidin, Long Thien Shih, Loo Foh Sang, Chang Fee Ming, Adeputra, and Masnoor Ramli Mahmud.

This is along with other international names in the art scene including Bagong Kussudiardja, Heri Dono, Indieguerillas, Hendra Gunawan, and Entang Wiharso. 

Having had the opportunity to tour the museum with a guide, we learnt that the exhibition is curated in such a way that visitors will see the evolution of wayang kulit, from being a visual performance to its translation on canvases and beyond. 

For context, GERAK BAYANG showcases artworks that date back to the mid-1900s up until the present day. And some artists have various interpretations of the cultural puppetry play and its symbols, as well as the use of innovative technology to tell a story. 

But apart from just visual appreciation, BNM MAG also provides visitors (especially young ones) with interactive artworks. This includes a large DIY artwork made of velcro and also large-sized puzzle pieces that conform to the theme. 

What is the significance of wayang kulit?

The origin of wayang kulit is widely said to be from Indonesia, and it remains one of the oldest existing theatre traditions in Asia, according to Asian Art Newspaper. 

The puppets are typically made of buffalo hide and intricately designed to help the audience distinguish between the different characters. This could be from the details of the outfits to the colour of the puppets.

In Malaysia, there are different kinds of wayang kulit and each is influenced by different areas. 

For example, Eksentrika explained that Wayang Kelantan (performed in Kelantan and Terengganu) has Thai Patani influences. Whereas Wayang Jawa (performed in Selangor and Johor) has strong Javanese roots.

The plays are commonly set in mythological times and feature dramatised episodes from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. 

However, Siti Melorinda shared that Malaysian puppeteers (also known as dalangs) would incorporate current events into the story as a way of making the story more relatable to its audience. This probably explains why there are puppets that look like Star Wars characters.

Why is Bank Negara involved in the arts scene?

You might be wondering why a bank is interested in the arts industry, as it seems like a deviation from its field. But the Director of BNM MAG, Noreen Zulkepli, explained that it all started in the 1960s.

Even before the current museum was opened in 2011, Bank Negara Malaysia’s first Malaysian Governor was really into supporting local artists in the 1960s, and the industry was booming at the time.

“We started by acquiring artworks and hosting exhibitions. Slowly, progressively, we collected artworks. But what makes our artworks different from other galleries is that our artworks are supposed to represent the socio-economic development of the nation,” she emphasised.

“You can see the evolution of art in the thinking process, in the medium, in the topic. The idea and narrative [now] has been very progressive, so that’s what we mean by representing socio-economic development.”

The director also shared, “We also believe in the influence and power that art holds, because we see how art can help in shaping nation-building, social cohesion, and creativity.”

Another way BNM MAG supports the local art scene is through its annual art bazaar, where emerging artists are invited to showcase and sell their artworks that are priced below RM2,500. It also serves as a way to promote art to budding collectors for it to be a sustainable ecosystem. 

Aside from the Art Gallery, BNM MAG has five other permanent galleries, namely a Children’s Gallery, an Islamic Finance Gallery, a Numismatics Gallery, an Economics Gallery, and a BNM Gallery.

These galleries were opened with the purpose of covering more disciplines of knowledge and being more inclusive. But the topic always revolves around the financial and economic development of Malaysia.

All that said, BNM MAG’s main focus remains on financial literacy, with Noreen teasing its upcoming “Financial Laterasi” exhibition that promotes prudent financial management with Dato Lat, a famed caricature artist best known for his Kampung Boy series. 

It’s a travelling exhibition that will be stopping by Kuching, Sarawak in October. As for its art galleries, there will be two months filled with programmes to celebrate Children’s Festival 2023. 


Opened from August 19, 2023, until January 28, 2024, the GERAK BAYANG exhibition will feature a number of public programmes, such as artist-led art workshops, art talks, puppet-making workshops, and wayang kulit performances.

Located at Level 3 of Bank Negara’s Sasana Kijang building, the exhibition is open to people from all walks of life completely free-of-charge. The gallery is open daily from 10AM to 5PM, except for Mondays.

This content was originally published here.