The Sea is Still a Mystery shadow play by Jumaadi and Michael Toisuta

The Sea is Still a Mystery

Part of Wonderwater | Performances 27 January

A shadow play by Jumaadi and Michael Toisuta

Strange creatures and curious vessels drift across simple squares of light. Evocative rhythms and sounds of the waterfront fill the space. This is a dream-like story of humans and the sea told in light and shadow.

In this short live performance, Indonesian-Australian artist Jumaadi continues his meditation on migration, the oceans and the ships that cross them. Stories of trade and belonging, love, joy and grief are performed using simple cut-outs made from paper and animal skins.

Through beautifully crafted silhouettes, Jumaadi and composer Michael Toisuta present a contemporary take on wayang, the traditional form of shadow-puppet plays that originated in Java and Bali.

Jumaadi was inspired by the museum’s vessels, particularly the Duyfken, the replica of the first European ship to reach Australia in 1606.

“This performance begins with a picture. Like a tree, at first it was a seed, Then it sprouted and branched, and multiplied. The images then evolves into a series of shapes. They suggest our relationship with the environment, with our personal and collective memories and shared history that shape us. Which is constructed, and often absurd, painful and witty.

The story began with a fisherman, where he gets abundant and endless catches. Not only fish, and sea creatures, but also ships that sank in the past which contained old beds hanging from household furniture, from kitchen utensils, a pair of shoes, a wedding dress and strange objects hinting at a series of memories and events from ancient times, the colonial era to the present.

Also caught are flora and fauna with a dazzling variety of leaf shapes, which are fragile and simple, flowers and twigs of native plants from the archipelago and Australia, as well as those introduced by Europeans during colonialism along with spices, coffee, tea and other plants that they traded.

The fisherman also watched the boats go by laden with flocks of sheep, cows, chickens and pigs whose meat was targeted, cans of tuna, mangoes. Strange objects, organs and parts of the human body, lungs, hearts, genitals, hair, dentures and artificial jaws.”




About the contributors:

Jumaadi was born in East Java, Indonesia and now lives between Sydney and Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Jumaadi works fluidly across a range of mediums, including painting, drawing, performance and installation. His practice is informed by personal experience as well as the political and aesthetic lineages of his homeland, including wayang kulit, a tradition of shadow-puppet plays that originated in Java and Bali. With a poetic sensibility and subtle symbolism, Jumaadi weaves together a personal iconography of human and organic motifs to explore universal themes such as love, conflict and belonging.

Michael Toisuta
grew up in Central Java before moving to Sydney. He is a highly regarded composer, sound designer and writer working in stage performance, video art installation, film, sound art and music. Michael has developed sound design for several stage productions including for the Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir, Griffin and Legs on the Wall. He has also collaborated with leading Australian artists on projects presented at Art Gallery of NSW, Asia Pacific Triennial, Vancouver Art Gallery and Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He is a frequent collaborator with Jumaadi, co-directing performances including Perahu-Perahu for the 2022 Sydney Festival and Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival and Sea of Thorny Fruits at the Blacktown Arts Centre.

The music is an integral part of the performance. It is a vessel that amplifies the emotions of the audience as they travel along with the shadows. The music sometimes leads and sometimes follows. If the shadow master brings the soul and life of the shadow with their body and their hands, then the music provides the oxygen

The Sea is Still a Mystery was first presented at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia as part of Performances on the Quay, a free performance art series jointly presented by the MCA and the Sydney Opera House. 


Images: The Sea is Still a Mystery performance, MCA 2023.