See Yogya in Singapore!
Most people travel quickly through the unremarkable corridor leading from the Esplanade Theatre on the Bay in Singapore to the MRT station and Raffles City shopping center. But since mid-August, pedestrians have been stopped in their tracks by a puffy, colorful collection of moving dolls, artworks and video installations nestled under the highway. A solo exhibition titled “Circus of Life,” focusing on the working elderly in big cities, is the result of the second collaboration between the Esplanade Theatre on the Bay and Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theatre. Founded in Yogyakarta in 2006, Papermoon is the brainchild of visual artist Iwan Effendi and Maria Tri Sulistyani, a writer, illustrator and former stage actress commonly referred to as Ria. What started as a regular puppet theater performance for children in Ria’s neighborhood later developed into a mission to use experimental art to reach a wider audience through the medium of puppetry. “Not content with only working in performance spaces, I decided to expand to site-specific performances, like in markets and trains,” Ria said. She plans to perform at hospitals and nursing homes in the near future and, along with Iwan, also hopes to conduct workshops for people of all ages. “For Papermoon, the puppet theater is a medium to bring a message to the people, to reflect on what happens in society and to sometimes become the candle, illuminating what’s left in the corner by society,” Ria said. Though Indonesia has a rich tradition in puppet theater, Ria’s inspiration to create Papermoon did not come from the traditional form of wayang puppetry, but from her background as an actress. “I make puppets because they can tell stories to everyone, no matter what age,” Ria said. “Puppetry is unpredictable and has the element of surprise. Papermoon also chooses imaginative stories for performances, while traditional puppet theaters in Indonesia use story lines from scripts like the Ramayana or Mahabharata epics.” Ria said that in Indonesia, traditional puppet theater once played an important role in communicating certain values to communities. In that sense, Papermoon strives to achieve the same goals, but in a different era and with a different approach. Since its establishment, Papermoon has been invited to hold workshops throughout Indonesia and abroad, including in the United States, South Korea, Malaysia, India and Singapore. “Last year, [the Esplanade] invited us to do a project for their first Youth Festival,” Ria said. “We did a three-week workshop with 25 college students who had never performed and didn’t know anything about puppet theater. But in the end, they put on a roving 30-minute performance with giant puppets. We helped them to write the story, make the puppets and put on the performance.” Thanks to their success, Papermoon received another invitation from Singapore earlier this year. This time, however, the idea was to create an exhibition. On the first trip to Singapore, Ria noticed the country’s young generation was leading a vibrant lifestyle centered around having fun, with regular visits to the shopping malls, despite the high cost of living. At the same time, Ria saw elderly people working as janitors or selling magazines. “I felt a big gap,” she said. Ria’s observation became the basis for the project — she wanted to show the lives of old generations through the eyes of the young. The participants in the “Circus of Life” project were 10 students from Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education. All of the students were involved in Papermoon’s first workshop in 2010 and were chosen for the follow-up project because Ria felt they had shown passion and enthusiasm. Ria coordinated the project with the students by creating a Facebook group. “I asked them to do research about the working elderly in Singapore,” Ria said. “I told them to take pictures, do interviews and ask people about their jobs and how they see their own life.” When the students acquired new data, they posted it to the Facebook group, so that everyone involved could see the progress and Ria could give them valuable feedback and further instructions. Ria and Iwan also traveled to Singapore in June to meet with the students. “We found that there were more things that could be explored,” Ria said. “So after we came back to Yogya, the students did more research, letting the characters tell more colorful stories.” Meanwhile, Papermoon developed the characters described by the students, turning them into puppets and shooting videos of them to post online. “When we looked at the results, we found that the elderly people could actually be described as performers of a circus of their own lives,” Ria said. “There were lots of sad stories behind what they do,” she added. “People just see how those 80-year-old aunties and uncles in bright uniforms clear the table or sweep the floor.” But most people fail to look beneath the surface, Ria said, and question whether people that old still have the physical capacity to work, or to ask when they are going to retire and spend some time with their loved ones. Ria said that she was happy with the final results, having achieved the goal of drawing attention to the elderly laborers of Singapore. “At least our 10 students have learned to start paying attention to the people around them,” she said. Ria and Iwan only spent two days in Singapore after installing the exhibition. She said a number of people stopped by and inquired about the project. “[Our partners] from Esplanade have said that this is one of the best exhibitions they’ve had,” Ria said. The characters in the “Circus of Life” seem colorful, pretty and even cute at first, but their narratives run much deeper. Most of the puppets’ faces look exhausted, evoking sympathy from the audience. Each puppet comes with their own story line, briefly described in text painted on the wall. One puppet represents an old lady wearing a brown skirt, purple blouse and a white apron, holding a plate in her hands. She stands next to a cart of empty dishes and her wrinkled face speaks of weariness. “She is a friendly auntie who I met in Marina Square food court,” the description reads. “We had a nice chat after I thanked her for cleaning my table.” Another description states: “He is a taxi driver who drove me to the airport. Several taxi drivers get into accidents because of heart problems. Some of them are already 70 years old.” Other characters depicted in the exhibition are street buskers, seamstresses, can collectors and ice cream vendors. “For me, this project is mainly about the young generation learning about being old,” Ria said. “By learning from the experiences of the elderly, we can decide how we will spend our own futures once we become old.” “Circus of Life” will be on display until the end of September, but Ria and her team already have their hands full planning other upcoming projects. “At the end of this month, Iwan will hold his solo exhibition in Singapore, and we’ll do a mini-play for the opening, based on the artworks of that exhibition,” she said. “In December, we will perform our newest production, which is part of the ‘Empowering Women Artists’ program of the Kelola Foundation. Next year, we will go on a one-month tour to perform our play ‘Mwathirika’ in the United States, while also preparing for ‘Pesta Boneka,’ our biennial international puppet festival in Yogyakarta.” “Yes,” she concluded with a laugh, “it’s so much fun to be busy.” News Source: The Jakarta Globe
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