Intimate storytelling forms the heart of Jumaadi’s practice, revealed through narrative paintings, performance and poetry. The tales draw from villages and communities in Indonesia, with enchanting characters that are both imagined and borrowed from Javanese puppetry imagery. As the stories surface on large cloths, tin-sheet cut-outs and buffalo-hide puppets — as well as in shadowpuppet productions — Jumaadi recounts folktales, stories of migration and fantastical journeys.
In 2000 Jumaadi moved from Java to Sydney to study, establishing a prolific career as an artist in Australia while continuing to develop Indonesian storytelling styles, such as wayang kulit (shadowpuppet theatre). He now divides his time between Australia and a studio on the hillside of the small village of Imogiri, in the region of Yogyakarta, Central Java. The area carries historical significance as the former complex of the royal graveyard for the sultans of Central Java, and it is where his stories and collaborations with local artisans come to life.
Jumaadi introduces his work
Since 2009, Jumaadi has also spent time in the village of Kamasan in eastern Bali, including with the renowned artist Mangku Muriati. The village is home to the celebrated tradition of Kamasan painting, which uses a specially prepared Balinese cloth to illustrate religious teachings and for ceremonial purposes, such as narrating the Hindu epics. The tradition dates to the sixteenth century and was brought to Bali from the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Majapahit in neighbouring East Java.1 Majapahit is where Jumaadi’s ancestors are from, and so working with Kamasan artists has become a way of reconnecting with his ancestors’ traditions, preparing giant Kamasan cloths as the basis for his recent series.2 For the artist, this series reflects on our current universal state and conditions:
They are as much about love — human relationships to each other and to nature — as they are about exploring issues of displacement, isolation and loneliness. Intricate motifs (such as tree branches, blood vessels, winding rivers, wet and dry leaf varieties, patterned fabrics worn by people) signify the beauty of time and geographic location.3
Across these banner-size cloths Jumaadi’s characters relay their magical tales in theatrical compositions. A boat transporting dust (perahu bermuatan debu) 2021 is inspired by stories of migration, including the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark and current day refugee ships passing through the Indonesian archipelago seeking refuge in Australia and elsewhere. In the work, a boat is loaded with sleeping people, animals, people wearing duck masks, people carrying burdens, a dead body, a large-scale head and people sitting, adopting postures resembling statues from eastern Indonesia. Flying artist (illustrated) 2021 explores the subjects of transportation, migration and dreams. Mimicking Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, the artist has tied his body to a plane. Together they fly across the seas, seeing islands float beneath them like clouds. Here the flying artist is the hero but is depicted in a lonely state, wearing only his sarong from his old village. Mountain high (peziara peziara) 2021 (illustrated) depicts ant-like pilgrims on a tall mountain, representing people who climb the tombs of the kings of Imogiri. Both those going up and those going down the mountain seem to carry burdens and use different means and methods as well as rituals to reach the top of the tomb. Slingshot (the tree of life is the tree of death) 2021 is inspired by the game of Russian roulette; it explores the tension between two human beings, a man and woman, tied together in a slingshot. They face each other, sitting on the roof of a house, and above their heads are the tree of life and the tree of death inspired by an image from a handwoven ikat cloth from Sumba.4
Such magical and poetic stories conjure a distant, dreamlike place. However, while we are invited into these fantastical narratives, they are intended as reflections on our own stories and conditions, seeking understanding of our human, environmental and spiritual relationships.
Tarun Nagesh is Curatorial Manager, Asian and Pacific Art, QAGOMA
This is an edited extract from the QAGOMA publication The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art available in-store and online from the QAGOMA Store
1 Jumaadi, email to the author, 7 June 2021.
2 Jumaadi, email to the author, 16 September 2020.
3 Jumaadi, email to the author, 16 September 2020.
4 Jumaadi, email to the author, 16 September 2020.
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On display at the Gallery of Modern Art during ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10). APT10 is at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022.