Adidas draws ire from Indonesians for attributing wayang kulit to Malaysian culture

Adidas criticized for attributing Javanese “wayang kulit” to Malaysian culture

Adidas faced heavy criticism from social media users over a new shoe design based on Javanese “wayang kulit,” a traditional form of shadow puppetry originating from Indonesia. 

Sneaker backlash: The sportswear manufacturer was accused of cultural appropriation after Adidas Singapore shared an image of wayang kulit-inspired sneakers on Instagram and implied that the artform originated in Malaysia, reported Coconuts

  • The sneakers in question were designed by Malaysian artist Jaemy Choong as part of the Ultra Boost DNA City Pack collection, a collaboration between Adidas and six Southeast Asian artists. 
  • Launched on Nov. 11, the sneakers in the collection were designed to represent Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, according to South China Morning Post.
  • The backlash stemmed from Adidas Singapore’s original caption, which read: “The design speaks of paying homage to Wayang Kulit, a significant part of Malaysia’s cultural identity and heritage by fusing elements of Wayang Kulit with a modern colour palette, in a ‘old-meets-new’ approach on the UltraBOOST DNA.” 
  • While Malaysia has its own version of shadow puppetry, also called “wayang kulit,” Choong’s design appears to be more inspired by that of Indonesian culture. 
  • The accompanying video for Choong’s design also shows recognizable elements from Javanese “wayang kulit.”


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A post shared by adidas Singapore (@adidassg)

Adidas’ apology: In addition to editing its controversial caption, Adidas Singapore shared a separate apology via Instagram Stories explaining that the artist and the brand did not mean to  imply that the artform originated in Malaysia.

  • “While wayang kulit is a significant part of Malaysia’s cultural heritage, we should have highlighted its origins from Indonesia in our post. We sincerely apologize for any unintentional offence [sic] that may have been taken, and have now amended our post,” the statement said.
  • The updated caption now reads: “Originating from Indonesia, Wayang Kulit has inspired other parts of Southeast Asia. The #UltraBOOST DNA City Pack design pays homage to the artform by fusing elements of Wayang Kulit with a modern color palette, in an ‘old-meets-new’ approach on the UltraBOOST DNA.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)  inscribed “wayang kulit” (flat leather shadow puppet) and  wayang klitik or golèk (the three-dimensional wooden puppet)  on its “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” back in 2003.

“For 10 centuries wayang flourished at the royal courts of Java and Bali as well as in rural areas. Wayang has spread to other islands (Lombok, Madura, Sumatra and Borneo) where various local performance styles and musical accompaniments have developed,” according to UNESCO.

Featured Image via Adidas SG

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