Matthew Isaac Cohen is Professor of International Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London. He was born in the US and educated at Harvard and Yale. He has lived in Indonesia for more than seven years, studying the performing arts, particularly wayang kulit. As a Fulbright scholar, he studied in the puppetry department of STSI Solo, Indonesia’s most prestigious arts conservatoire, and gained a certificate in puppetry from Ganasidi, the national wayang association. Among his teachers are the late Ki Oemartopo, Ki Joko Susilo, Ki Blacius Subono, the late Ki Toyo Carito, the late Ki Dharmakbakti, the late Ki Kurnadi and the late Ki Saal. In 1999, while conducting postdoctoral research in the Cirebon area, he was the principal understudy of Ki Basari’s wayang company Langen Suara, and regularly performed matinee shows (wayang awan) for village audiences, up to five times a week.
Matthew moved to the UK in 2000 and since 2005 he has lectured in theatre in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance at Royal Holloway, University of London. He was appointed professor in 2011.
Matthew has written on many aspects of Indonesian performing arts. His 2006 book, The Komedie Stamboel: Popular Theater in Colonial Indonesia, 1891-1903, won the Harry J. Benda Prize in Southeast Asian Studies from the Association for Asian Studies. His book Performing Otherness: Java and Bali on International Stages, 1905-1952 was published in 2010 by Palgrave Macmillan in the prestigious Studies in International Performance Series. His latest book, Inventing the Performing Arts: Modernity and Tradition in Colonial Indonesia, was published with the University of Hawaii Press in 2016.
Matthew has performed as a solo puppeteer (dhalang) with gamelan groups in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia for three decades and has created post-traditional works of wayang as a solo performer and collaboratively with Indonesian and European artists.
Since moving to the UK, he has studied many other forms of puppetry as well, including rod puppets, glove puppets, table-top puppets, various sorts of shadow puppets and paper theatre. He has taught theoretical, historical and practical courses on puppetry at Royal Holloway since 2005, reviewed puppet plays for Animations Online and convened events and organized performances with the Puppet Working Group, an inter-disciplinary group of practitioner-researchers based at Royal Holloway.
In 2009 he was awarded the title of ‘Ki Ngabehi’ from the royal court of Kacirebonan in West Java for ‘great and consistent attention to the culture of Indonesia, particularly in the field of traditional puppetry’.