In her 2016 text that accompanied the artist pages in our March 2016 issue, Sonia Legge wrote about the transformative material threading through the work of Indonesian–Australian artist Jumaadi. Working between Sydney and Java, but also on field trips into the Australian countryside earlier this decade, he began producing his now-distinctive composite paintings made up of smaller works, portraying poetic vignettes often reduced to a simple horizon line. ‘[L]ight, whether dawn or dusk, like rain and clouds, is a symbol of love and life’s promise in Jumaadi’s visual world,’ Legge wrote.
This methodology and ethos has found its apotheosis in the multi-panel painting Some kind of record (2016), which late last month was awarded the acquisitive AU$50,000 Mosman Art Prize (the prize’s seventieth anniversary exhibition is currently on view at the Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney until 29 October). Delicately inscribed across the 24 masonite panels, sourced on a residency in Cowra in 2013, is the artist’s diaristic vision, documenting a worldview that is at once meteorological and metaphysical.
Jumaadi was in Cowra to research the stories of 1200 Indonesian political prisoners transported to the New South Wales town in 1943 by the Dutch. He came to learn that some had been fighters for Indonesian independence, continuing their struggle in Melbourne in the late 1940s; some had responded to the Australian landscape with fragments of poetry, among the earliest such Indonesian accounts Jumaadi had encountered.
Viewed collectively, it is a moving testament to not only this particular window of Indonesian–Australian experience, but also something more universal. In these threads of light and lines of poetry, searching and proclaiming but also scribbled-out and filled with self-doubt, a multitude of souls and stories are poignantly seeking a wider narrative – to find freedom and escape from the imprisonment of the grid.
Michael Fitzgerald, Sydney