The Project

The Rhinocerotidae:

An Eco-Opera Suite in defence of the rhinoceros

by Indija Mahjoeddin

Problematising immortality and extinction through the eyes of the Sumatran Singing Rhinoceros – a whimsical examination of their human significance and resonances. 
A menopausal rhino in love drops from the sky amidst  a choir of humpback whales.
Surveillance and countersurvaillence as technology and wilderness negotiate each other
Immortality and the shadowy underworld of oriental medicinals as a film noir asian cabaret tragedy.
A Pleistocene woolly rhino trapped on an ice floe is guided to warmer climes by a pod of singing whales.

* I have created a suite of poetic narratives which will be developed in 3 modalities to deliver an urgent message for an imperiled species on the brink of extinction.

Taking shape as:

– an enchanting large scale theatre of puppetry,

– an edgy, anthropomorphic, cross-dressing multimedia opera installation

– and a bilingual folk play using indigenous storytelling

The Rhinocerotidae: An Eco-Opera will be a series of evocative, serious, whimsical multi- art form experiences celebrating the oldest living mammal, the singing rhinoceros of Sumatra and other endangered species. Each will draw on bioacoustic, ecological and reproductive science of the smallest of five rhino, the Dicerorhinus Sumatrensis.

Closest relative of the Pleistocene woolly rhino, sharing complex vocalisations with the Humpback Whale, and now dwindling to less than 200 in pockets across Indonesia and Malaysia these animals are threatened by their own individualism, archaic reproductive system, lack of knowledge among local residents and habitat pressure through agricultural and residential expansion.
In line with initiatives by I.R. President and Minister Kehutanan, we aim to raise awareness, empathy and appreciation of the species as part of Indonesia’s contribution to a global heritage.

I am  a Melbourne-based theatre artist/performance writer with background in Sumatran music theatre and a life long attachment to the rhinoceros.
We plan to research and develop the work in Sumatra and Vietnam in early 2013with generous endorsement from the international Rhino and trafficking sector, they are keen to work with me on getting the final product out to international, especially Asian audiences.

The episodes may be described in working titles as

1 Ur-Mammalian Songlines – an Origin myth
2 The Singing Rhinoceros – A Love story
3 The Human:Wilderness UI – A new media montage
4 The Red Door – An oriental crime thriller meditating on extinction and immortality
5 A picaresque biligual Lampung Rhinoceros Rampage in folk opera or bardic form.
6 Kariega Requiem –  a hymn to survival


For the fuller in-depth introduction, synopses, treatments and rationale see this four page official submission blurb document