Adidas apologizes to livid Indonesians over Malaysian wayang kulit claim

Indonesians are worked up over what they call cultural appropriation involving their neighbors, after Adidas Singapore said Wayang Kulit (flat leather shadow puppets) is a Malaysian tradition but failed to mention its true origin in an Instagram post.

Earlier this month, Adidas country pages in Southeast Asia announced the Ultra Boost DNA City Pack, a collaboration between the sportswear giant with six artists from the region to represent their countries ⁠— namely Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia ⁠— through their sneaker designs. The collection was launched on Nov. 11.

Adidas Singapore got a taste of Indonesian netizens’ wrath when it posted a picture of Malaysia’s Wayang Kulit-inspired sneakers, writing in the caption that the art form is a Malaysian cultural heritage, without any mention of Indonesia at all. 

“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,” Adidas’ original caption read.

Though Malaysia does have their own version of the puppets, the drawings on these particular sneakers — designed by Malaysian artist Jaemy Choong — as well as the puppet-shadow play shown at the beginning of the video, appear to be more of the Javanese tradition.
While the post was posted last week, it is still flooded with angry comments from Indonesians in both English and Indonesian — with a number of them quoting the Wikipedia page for Wayang Kulit.

It’s worth noting that UNESCO designated Wayang Kulit, along with Wayang Klitik (flat wooden puppet) and Wayang Golek (three-dimensional wooden puppet) theatre, as Indonesian cultural heritages.

Following the ruckus, Adidas Singapore has since revised their caption, as one can see below:

Adidas Singapore also posted a public apology via Instagram Stories, in which they said that both the brand and the artist had no intention of claiming the cultural art form from Indonesia.

Screenshot from Instagram/@adidassg

In the collection, Indonesia is represented by Yeri Afriyani, a Bandung-based artist, designer, and entrepreneur who helms fashion label Calla The Label, which is known for their colorful patterns. Each pair of the sneakers are retailed at IDR3.2 million (US$224), though Adidas Indonesia only carries the designs from Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand, aside from Indonesia, on its official online store.


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