On a blustery Saturday, 30 children from the local Maori community gathered by the shores of Wyong Lakes, attired in traditional dress. They learnt some dance moves, added some streamers to their costumes, and got ready to celebrate their cultural heritage and the area’s multiculturalism.
The afternoon parade of colour, culture and heritage was the result of the ‘Folklore’ themed Artist in Residence program for the Wyong Lakes Festival. Alli Sebastian Wolf, founder and creative director of Deep Sea Astronauts, collaborated with Art Pharmacy and Wyong Shire Council in order to bring together local Maori and Filipino community members in order to explore storytelling from a community perspective.
Coming together in a community puppetry workshop, the project connected Maori design and visual culture with the storytelling of the local community from the Philippines. The vibrant parade of herons, monkeys, water sprites, and a turtle, led by a sparkling dragon that wove its way through the main walkway area of The Entrance was the final result.
They gathered together and entertained the crowd with the story of the Monkey and the Turtle. Edna Wacher, representing the local Philippines community said for her the process began with community consultation – ‘The community was happy for me to mention that story of the Monkey and the Turtle’ – before working with the council and Alli; ‘and now we’re here!’, she said, surveying the children who were eagerly awaiting to act out the story.
Alli, from Deep Sea Astronauts, a theatre collective known for their puppetry and storytelling, said that the community and storytelling aspects of the project were essential. ‘This was a very community oriented program,’ Alli stated, ‘We met the community in the workshops where elements of the story were teased out.’
Indeed, the Costume and Puppetry Workshop, was attended by passionate and committed community members. They helped to design and make a lot of the additional puppets that added Maori visual culture to the Philippine storytelling. As Alli noted, ‘A lot of non-artists got involved with the project which made it really exciting and special.’
Art Pharmacy’s founder and director, Emilya Colliver, spoke of how important public art is; ‘It’s so important that these strong relationships between artists, councils and communities are being built and nurtured. It’s great to see councils supporting local and emerging Australian artists, too.’
This immersive piece of folklore storytelling, full of passion and enthusiasm, depicted the importance of exploring and sharing cultural heritage, and deepening this connection through engaging with the arts.