Bali’s best museum
In Bali, it’s believed when masks are worn, dancers embody the spirits of the Gods and Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets aims to preserve and showcase its extensive collection from Bali, other parts of the Indonesian archipelago and the world. This excellent private museum is one of our favourites, and arguably the best museum in Bali with the added bonus that it’s free to enter (donations welcome).
Tucked away at the back of Mas village, six kilometres from Ubud Palace and set within a beautiful manicured tropical garden, a collection of lovingly restored, charming historic Joglo houses from Java display the treasures. If the idea of masks and puppets don’t appeal, it’s worth going to see the houses alone—we particularly love the pale yellow and green combined Joglo and Limasan house form Boma village in Central Java, with its quirky wooden pineapples hanging upside down from the ceiling.
The exhibits are well presented with informative labels in English and Indonesian. Don’t be afraid to enter the darkened rooms, the well-designed sensor-tripped lighting comes to life as you cross the threshold. Every piece displayed is a masterpiece of craftsmanship to rival any international museum collection.
The first house, Joglo Plumpang, is divided into two rooms and displays masks with costumes designed to be worn by one or several people. Unusual pig-, elephant- and tiger-faced Barongs and standing Barong Landung from Bali, are surrounded by Barong Plok from East Java. The second room displays masks and costumes from Chinese Indonesian culture including lion and dragon dance costumes.
The second Joglo, the aforementioned Boma house, along with a more traditional Balinese Barong and Rangda costume, has a wonderful collection of topeng masks by Bali’s master mask carvers, I Wayan Tangguh and I Wayan Muka, and a large display of Balinese wayan kulit, shadow puppets.
The collection in the third house, Senori from East Java, comes from all over Indonesia: masks from West Papua, Kalimantan, Sumatra and Java.
The Keben house from East Java displays some very unusual shadow puppets from around the world. Note the Christian collection, with Jesus and characters from the Bible, and we love the pack of Indonesian presidents from Soekano to Jokowi, all in black suites, except for Megawati in her signature red dress. Look out for the unique and rare woven grass puppets from Purbalingga, Central Java.
When you enter the Bojonegoro house, don’t be surprised to be greeted by Barak Obama in miniature and Agustinus Prayitno, the founder of Setia Darma as wayan golek, wooden puppets. This house displays some magnificent, sometimes realistic and often creepy wooden puppets from all around the world.
Across the lawn the lovely Blora house with colourful wood detailing showcases masks from the four corners of the globe including many from Africa, South America and other parts of Asia.
A small gift shop is notably lacking in masks and puppets and sells mostly jewellery. Toilets are spotless. Within the grounds, another wooden house serves as a concert hall for occasional musical performances and talks and an outdoor amphitheatre commands a stunning view of the neighbouring rice fields. Perched near the car park, Cafe Topeng offers Indonesian food, snacks and drinks at Warung prices.
If you are interested in culture and the arts, Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets should be top of your list. It’s a great spot for kids too, not just on a rainy day. We were surprised at the lack of other visitors—we were alone, and this museum really deserves patronage, it’s terrific.
Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets is an easy cycle from Ubud, or add it to a day trip when visiting nearby Goa Gajah, about two kilometres north. Other Museums worth visiting in the Ubud area include the Neka Museum and Museum Puri Lukisan. If masks and puppets really are your thing, consider joining a mask-making workshop at Pondok Pecak Library and Learning Centre or attending one of the nightly shadow puppet performances in Ubud.
Address: Six kilometres southwest of Ubud, Jalan Tegal Bingin, Mas
T: (0361) 898 7493; (0819) 9946 2379;
Coordinates (for GPS): 115º16'45.23" E, 8º32'3.37" S
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These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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