Professor Matthew Isaac Cohen

Personal profile

Matthew Isaac Cohen is a scholar of Southeast Asian performing arts and puppet theatres around the world. His research examines tradition in modernity, the emergence of new artistic forms and practices in culturally complex sites, representations of alterity and transnational performances.

An American by birth, he studied wayang kulit in the puppetry department of the conservatoire Institut Seni Indonesia Surakarta in Indonesia, received a PhD in anthropology from Yale University, was a postdoctoral research fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies in The Netherlands and taught at the University of Glasgow before joining Royal Holloway in 2005. He has been a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Malaya in Malaysia; a visiting scholar at Sanata Dharma University in Indonesia; a fellow-in-residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences; and a Visiting Research Professor at the University of Connecticut in the USA.

Professor Cohen has published three monographs, The Komedie Stamboel: Popular Theater in Colonial Indonesia, 1891-1903 (2006; winner of the Harry J. Benda Prize in Southeast Asian Studies from the Association for Asian Studies in 2008), Performing Otherness: Java and Bali on International Stages, 1905-1952 (2010) and Inventing the Performing Arts: Modernity and Tradition in Colonial Indonesia (2016); edited two volumes of plays in translation, Demon Abduction: A Wayang Ritual Drama from West Java (1998) and The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Drama, Volume 1: Plays for the Popular Stage (2010); and written numerous articles, essays and translations. His research has been supported by grants from the Fulbright, the American Council of Learned Societies, the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

He performs wayang kulit internationally under the company banner Kanda Buwana, and in 2009, he was honoured to receive the royal title Kyai Ngabehi from the royal court of Kacirebonan (Cirebon, Indonesia) for ‘great and consistent attention to the culture of Indonesia, particularly in the field of traditional puppetry.’

He is the Director of Royal Holloway's Centre for Asian Theatre and Dancesits on the Executive Committee of ASEASUK, the national subject group on South-East Asian Studies, a contributing editor to Asian Theatre Journal, and a councillor representing the UK in UNIMA, the international puppetry organization affiliated with UNESCO. A frequent observer of puppet theatre in London, he has organized workshops, lectures and seminars on puppetry at Royal Holloway and in London.

Professor Cohen welcomes applications from research students, particularly in the following areas: Southeast Asian theatre and performance; puppet theatre; traditional theatre and folk drama; and anthropology of theatre.

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