Matthew Isaac Cohen

Professor, Puppet Arts

Matthew Isaac Cohen, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts, and a scholar-practitioner specializing in global traditions of puppet theatre, Indonesian performing arts, intercultural and transnational performance, and cultural heritage.

The son of two Yale faculty, he grew up in the New Haven area and studied psychology as an undergraduate at Harvard College and anthropology as a Ph.D. student at Yale University. He was a postdoctoral research at the International Institute for Asian Studies (The Netherlands), a theatre studies lecturer at the University of Glasgow (Scotland), and a professor of international theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London (England), before returning to Connecticut in 2019 to develop global arts and culture and contribute to UConn’s internationally-renowned Puppet Arts program. He has also held visiting appointments and fellowships at Universitas Nasional (Indonesia), Sanata Dharma University (Indonesia), University of Malaya (Malaysia), the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Yale University Art Gallery, and Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

Professor Cohen has published three monographs, the award-winning The Komedie Stamboel: Popular Theater in Colonial Indonesia, 1891-1903 (Ohio UP and KITLV Press, 2006);            Performing Otherness: Java and Bali on International Stages, 1905-1952 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and Inventing the Performing Arts: Modernity and Tradition in Colonial Indonesia (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016).

Trained in traditional shadow puppet theatre (wayang kulit) as a Fulbright scholar in the puppetry department of the Indonesian conservatoire Institut Seni Indonesia Surakarta and privately with teachers in Central and West Java, Professor Cohen has performed both traditional and contemporary shadow puppet plays in collaboration with gamelan groups in Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America. His contributions to Indonesian puppetry are recognized by the 2009 award of the royal title ‘Ki Ngabehi’ (equivalent to a knighthood) bestowed by Sultan Abdul Gani of the royal court of Kacirebonan, and the award of the royal name “Ki Dalang Bawana” (Sir Puppeteer of the World) bestowed by Sultan Arief Natadiningrat of the court of Kasepuhan.

He is currently at work on a visual history of Indonesian puppet theatre based on ongoing research on the Dr. Walter Angst and Sir Henry Angest Collection of Indonesian Puppets at Yale University Art Gallery, the largest wayang collection in the world.

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