The Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets, or in bahasa Indonesia, Rumah Topeng & Wayang Setia Darma (RTWSD), is home to the world’s largest collection of masks and puppets, displaying artifacts from multiple regions across Indonesia, many countries around Asia, and even as far as Italy and Africa. This magnificent display of culture is located in the village of Banjar Tengkulak Tengah in the Gianyar Regency, Bali. Aside from being a cultural tourism destination, the RTWSD is also a center of entertainment, education, and preservation of the art of the Mask Dance and Puppet Theatre.
The House of Masks and Puppets was initiated by businessman and culture enthusiast, Hadi Sunyoto. It began as his own personal collection of masks and puppets from various regions around Indonesia, motivated by his deep interest and fascination with the Mask Dance.
This later developed into a deep concern about the low awareness and lack of appreciation for The Arts. And with modern entertainment rapidly replacing the traditional, Hadi Sunyoto feared an important part of Indonesian Heritage would soon be forgotten. Hadi believes that masks were not created for entertainment only, but rather project a much deeper meaning to all who stop to watch. In 2006, the House of Masks and Puppets was finally opened. Stored, preserved, and displayed for free, the public can now become more familiar with this part of Indonesia’s history and culture, and come to understand the ways and the meanings of the masks and the men behind them.
The building consists of 5 joglo, or traditional teak homes, structured in the styles of housing from several parts of Java. Other facilities included in the House are a study hall, coffee shop, and multifunction hall – often used for performances. Thousands of square meters of tropical gardens surround the House itself, bordered again by stretches of lush green rice fields.
Covering 1.4 hectares of land, the collection contains 1,200 masks from Indonesia, Africa and Japan, while the 4,700 puppets come from various regions of Indonesia, China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. All types of Indonesian Puppets can be seen on display such as the Wayang Kulit, flat puppets made from animal skin, and used for Indonesia’s famous shadow plays, Wayang Golek, three-dimensional wooden puppets, Wayang Krucil, flat wooden puppets, Wayang Beber, painted paper scroll puppets, and Potehi which are Chinese puppets.
Augustinus Prayitno, Director of RTWSD, states that the collection on display only accounts for half of the total number in storage. RTSWD is managed privately without any government intervention, and although the function of the building may be similar to that of a museum, Augustinus refuses to call it such. Styled more like a home than a museum, friendly and well-informed staff are happy to take visitors on a tour of the House and explain the history and uses of each piece.
Many challenges are faced in the collection of such antiques, as some are considered to be sacred, for which special rites are required for these to be used in performance . Yet another obstacle is discovering the meaning of each item, due to limited data and information. This information is usually gathered from verbal history of the local community.
Today, this House is a highly sought after destination in the World of Art. Each day, the house is filled with visitors of all walks of life, from the general public, tourists, students, art lovers, historians and researchers.