Michael Schuster, Ph.D.

Curator, East-West Center Gallery

Michael Schuster was appointed curator of the East-West Center Gallery in January 2004.  He also works as a puppeteer, designer, teacher, presenter, videographer, and ethnographer, focusing on the arts of Asia and the Pacific. He has curated more than forty exhibitions about the arts and peoples of the Asia Pacific region. Schuster served as Folk Arts Coordinator for the State of Hawaii for three years in the late 1990’s , and as the folklorist for the National Organization for Traditional Artists Exchange for two years in the early 2000’s.

Schuster received a Ph.D. in Asian Theatre from the University of Hawai‘I in1996.  He began studying the arts of Asia and the Pacific in 1973, and has trained with master artists from India, Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, and Japan.  He has researched and recorded artists from China, Korea, Tibet, Japan, India, Okinawa, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Papua New Guinea Uzbekistan, Samoa, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hawai’i.  A specialist in the puppetry of South and Southeast Asia, he has also studied iconography, carving techniques, costuming, and history, religion and philosophy as they relate to the arts of Asia and the Pacific region.

In the late 1970’s he began designing, performing, and touring professional productions of puppet theatre based on studies in Indonesia and India, and was a founding member of the Train Theatre in Jerusalem in 1981 and the International Puppet Festival in Jerusalem in 1984 .

In the early 1980’s he collaborated and partnered with Alina Ashbel, Alan Whinston, and Gayle Goodman on several productions. In 1989, he received a Fulbright grant to research folk theatre in South India, and subsequently received a grant from the East-West Center to pursue doctoral work.  His dissertation concentrated on the visual art of gombeyata theatre, a unique Indian puppet theatre with an emphasis on woodcarving, iconography, and its relationship to cultural meaning. His current puppet production about Marco Polo’s travels which he created with his daughter, Layla Schuster, was inspired by his research and travels in Central Asia and China.  His interest in traditional puppetry and folk art continue to inform his performance and video art.