New Theatre Quarterly

Look at the Clouds: Migration and West Sumatran ‘Popular’ Theatre

Matthew Isaac Cohen 


The numerous interrelated ‘popular’ theatres of Indonesia provide important evidence for the study of artistic interaction and change. The West Sumatran Randai theatre emerged in a culturally hybrid space and has been a sensitive index to local, national, and international flows and conditions. Matthew Isaac Cohen traces the origins of Randai in the late-colonial period and discusses its associations with rantau – a time of temporary migration, traditionally associated with the rite of passage to adulthood, but increasingly a semi-permanent exile for many Sumatrans. He then traces how and why Randai has now become more than a local art form, having been exported out of the province of West Sumatra to be utilized as source material for modern theatre by Indonesian theatre makers in Jakarta and Australia. Matthew Isaac Cohen is a Lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow, a scholar of Indonesian theatre and performance, and a practising shadow puppeteer.