Papermoon’s Mwathirika: A Contemporary Indonesian Puppet Theater

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From history lost to love found. From love lost to history found.

Mwathirika had ran only for 25 shows with 300 audiences and yet the show made remarkable effect for Indonesia as a nation. When Papermoon Puppet Theater artistic directors Ria Sulistyani and Iwan Effendi first reflected on its concept, the question “What is heroism?” was raised. The 1965 US-backed genocide in the country where more than half a million people were killed and a million more tortured and imprisoned first the first answer that came to mind.

Such horrible age of communist purging that victimized innocents and civilians was systematically repressed from the pages of history and people’s memory by the military junta of Suharto until his ouster in 1998. Present generation would not have a clear understanding of what went wrong and what went right in such incident if not for the testimony of their grandparents who experienced it and for the stories retold in the theater.

Iwan, a visual artist and self-taught puppeteer had discovered his grandfather was a Dalang, a respected traditional puppeteer at that time. He was imprisoned for 13 years for merely serving as a community teacher in his own house. After being freed in 1979, he was afraid to portray the soul of the puppet again, dance or play music with the repressive thought that there was something wrong with his art.

Ria on the other hand had come across in her research an article about a man who was then sent in a solidarity mission in Russia and could not come back to Indonesia for his fiancé given the circumstances in 1965. He lost communication since then.

Mwathirika puppet play took inspiration from this love story in dark times where waiting could be tormenting yet filled with hope. With its success was the sequel Setjangkir Kopi dari Plaja (A Cup of Coffee from Playa) performed in an antique shop. Then a puppet installation, Growing Old with You, followed.

Through the efforts of the company, the man portrayed in the story who is now eventually in exile in Cuba was reunited to Indonesia after four decades. He also met again his former fiancé who is now happily married.

Watch Mwathirika Trailer


Yogyakarta-based artists Ria Sulistyani and Iwan Effendi are in Manila under one-month residency with Manila Contemporary. They shared their puppet-making experience, performance and therapy workshops in the artist’s talk, Salam Kenal: A greeting from Indonesia, held at 98B Collaboratory in December 2, 2012. Besides the Mwathirika, they are also known for their work Pesta Boneka (Puppet Party / Festival).

About Joanna Lerio

cultural journalist, multidisciplinary artist, educator, traveller, dreamer, yogini, vegetarian, advocate
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