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November 9, 2016

This week we will focus on our special guest Arahmaiani Feisal who visited earlier this week.

Handle Without Care 1_1996_97_Brisbane

Arahmaiani in her performance piece Handle Without Care in Brisbane, Australia, 1997.

Earlier this week, the Southeast Asia Center invited performing artist and activist Arahmaiani Feisal for one-on-one meet ups and a public lecture about her art. Arahmaiani has done over 100 presentations and art shows in solo performances and collaboration with groups at activist sites, biennales, and sacred sites. She is making change and advocating for others’ change-making through the redeeming of histories and memories in the form of an indigenization movement. Colonization has and continues to impinge on the life-worlds of indigenous peoples to the point that many have lost confidence in their traditions and even believe their traditions are irrelevant to the modern era. The other impact colonization has had is the romanticization and exoticization of indigenous cultures where they become one-dimensional fetishes for exploitation. Arahmaiani seeks to not only restore confidence and respect in indigenous traditions, but also give new meaning to them.

She is inspired by the syncretism of Islam, Hindu-Buddhism, Westernism and animism in the culture of her homeland of Java. In Java, the art world has flourished with numerous movements including traditional dance and literature; however, rather than following the tide of one of these art movements, Arahmaiani chose to create her own art form that represents her identity and what she stands for. The root idea behind her work is the feminine and the masculine in both material and abstract forms. According to Arahmaiani, the feminine-masculine duality is out of balance, creating a hyper-masculine economy and world. In order to re-balance it, feminine energy in the form of marginalized peoples must be given more power.

In Lingga-Yoni, Arahmaiani aims to re-balance the feminine and masculine. She was inspired by the artwork of the Sukuh Temple in Java where she spent a lot of time training. On the floor of the entrance was a uniquely realistic carving of a lingam yoni. During her training, she would walk in and out of the temple over the lingam yoni. Then, she had a realization. When she walked in and out of the temple, the position of the lingam to the yoni would change. Contrary to common assumptions that the lingam’s position is fixed above the yoni, their positions are actually flexible. For this reason, Arahmaiani painted this piece with the yoni, the feminine energy, at the top. The lingam yoni is set on a background of Malay Arabic text that reads “Nature is a book” and the alphabet as well as Sanskrit text from the ancient Javanese kingdoms. She received harsh backlash from the radical Islamic community in Indonesia about “a penis and a vagina” on “sacred Arabic script” being dirty. She responded with an explanation of the sacredness of the lingam yoni in Hinduism and it is actually their minds that are dirty.

Over the past ten years, Arahmaiani has spent a majority of her time working with communities around the world on environmental issues using non-violent methods, which she believes is the best way to unite the world. One piece she is proud of for its ability to be performed anywhere in the world with any community is Parangtritis. The performance involves a procession of local community members. Communities involved have been an Islamic boarding school in Yogyakarta that she spent time with and Taiwanese tourists who stumbled upon her performance in places from Paris to Singapore. The procession carries flags created by female seamstresses from her local village in Yogyakarta. The flags are made from bright colors with words like akal (mind) in Malay Arabic and courage in English sewn into them. Also included in the procession is a banner with the names of multinational corporations to symbolize protest and promotion. The procession waves these flags and dance to their final destination where they deliver a love letter for corruption to people including government officials.

Arahmaiani hopes that more workshops like Parangtritis will be able to seal divisions between people throughout the world. She believes that activism in the traditional sense only creates more divisions between groups that sometimes results in war. Her alternative is to bring groups in tension together to find peace and acceptance of one another. This goal has sent her to southern Thailand, where tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have escalated to violence, and Tibet. It is only through non-violence, Arahmaiani emphasizes, that war can be avoided and world peace may someday become reality. She is not blind to the violence and negativity constantly around us, but she does not let it discourage her from her work.