The PSWG blog this week presents a curated series of responses to Kathy Foley’s talk, titled Tangible Intangibles: Heritage and Performance in Bordered Worlds. Kathy has selected for us an iconic object of performance (in this case, a set of photographs) around which her work has crystallized. By ‘objects of performance’ we mean things which embody, depict, surrogate, reflect, describe or resonate with a performance in the past and which constitute the focus of our critical attention. They could be films, audio recordings, clothes, anecdotes, buildings, gestures and so on- in short, objects by which we know the presence- or disappearance- of a performance.
Of the selected images, she writes:
“Here are two images from Mak Yong, a southeast Asian female dance form which seems to be going gender straight as a result of current efforts to preserve it. The question is why with modernization female forms tend not to be preserved with the females doing the male roles, but male forms (consider Kabuki, Noh) are successful and “more artistic” than the female genres. When “heritage” hits the modern proscenium stage is it heritage or just the next evolution of various forms and how can genres be made “national icons” without such modifications which suit contemporary mores and political polemics?”
This paper looks at the impact of institutions such as the UNESCO “Intangible Cultural Heritage” designation on art forms, national rivalries evoked when forms are shared across national boundaries, and issues of cultural documentation, preservation, and development with examples drawn from Southeast Asia and beyond.
Kathy Foley is professor of theatre at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has also taught at the University of Hawaii, Yonsei University, and Chulalongkorn University. She is author of the Southeast Asia section of The Cambridge guide to World Theatre and editor of Asian Theatre Journal, and her articles have appeared inTDR, Modern Drama, Asian Theatre Journal, Puppetry International, among others. She trained in mask and puppetry in the Sundanese region of Indonesia, and was the first non-Indonesian invited to perform in the prestigious all-Indonesia National Wayang Festival. As an actress her performance of Shattering the Silence: Blavatsky, Besant, Ruukmini Devi toured the U.S. and England in 2005. She performs frequently in the US and Indonesia and has curated exhibitions of puppets of South and Southeast Asia and masks of Southeast Asia for many institutions. She worked on typology and cosmology with recent fieldwork in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Plays include Farewell to Manzanar (with Jeannie and Jim Houston), Baba (with Belle Yang, and Fox Hunts and Freedom Fighters. At Yale, she will work on a manuscript on Islamic mysticism, music, and mask dance, and puppetry in West Java; the fellowship will also result in performances of wayang(Indonesian traditional theatre).
PSWG member Joey Plaster spent a year gathering 70+ oral histories from people experiencing Polk Street’s transition from San Francisco’s working class queer neighborhood to an upscale entertainment district. This radio special, based on the project, was distributed nationally via NPR’s HearingVoices:
Georgetown University is now adapting the piece for the stage, with performances scheduled for March: