Part of The Animal Paradox

The Masked Monkeys

Anja Dornieden & Juan David González Monroy

Germany/Indonesia 2015, 30 minutes

The Masked Monkeys documents the controversial Javanese street art and theatrical ritual of Wayang Topeng Monyet, in which trained monkeys perform a series of tasks rooted in social allegory and religious significance. Some celebrate the practice as a form of folk-art derived from Indonesian mythology, while others find it an instance of cruel animal torture and exploitation used by the impoverished to survive. Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy neither condemn nor condone the practice, but focus instead on the relationship between the master, the monkey, and the codes to which they both must adhere. Much of the narration is borrowed and adapted from Thomas E. Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms, a 19th century guide to proper etiquette, business strategies, and class relations. Through this juxtaposition, the filmmakers emphasise the training and performance of both human and primate behaviour as a process of imitation, repetition, and embodiment. 


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