Arahmaiani: ‘To change, we must work together’

Roxanne Ray October 25, 2016 0
Indonesian performance and graphic artist Arahmaiani. • Courtesy Photo

Indonesian performance and graphic artist Arahmaiani. • Courtesy Photo

Climate change is a global issue that particularly affects island nations, and Indonesia is no exception. Raising concern about this global and local issue is Indonesian performance and graphic artist Arahmaiani, who will come to the Pacific Northwest region for the first time as a keynote speaker at the upcoming 2016 Southeast Asia Symposium, hosted by University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

Arahmaiani is a multi-media specialist whose performances address a wide variety of social topics ranging from militarization, political corruption, the role of women in Islamic societies, and the effects of each of these on our global environment.

Her practice stems from experiments that began in the 1980s: “I developed a kind of trans-disciplinary approach,” Arahmaiani said, including, “dance, music, and writing essays, besides making art and performance, but also with social, political, and environmental activities.”

Arahmaiani first began these street performances three decades ago after feeling disappointed with her formal education, but these politically-oriented performances were not always popular with the Indonesian government. “Reaction can be hard,” Arahmaiani said. “In 1983, I was arrested by the military, during the military regime time, and in 1993, I was getting a kind of death threat from hard-liner Islamists. They said that they would drink my blood, as I was considered to be doing blasphemous work.”

While these incidents were frightening, Arahmaiani now feels a sense of pride. “I’m the first Indonesian to receive this kind of threat!” she said.

The political and governmental pressure later eased but didn’t cease altogether. “In 2006, I was searched by the so-called religious police in Malaysia,” she said, “and I had to escape to Singapore.”

Regardless of these threats, Arahmaiani continued her work and spread it internationally. “So far the response from the international art scene I’ve gotten has been mostly positive,” she said. Although positive response was slow to build, she reports, “today, surprisingly I get a lot of positive comments and reviews!”

In addition to performing, Arahmaiani has tried to change the educational system that she found so disappointing decades ago. “But I work on the street,” she said, “a kind of open alternative art school. And it is for free!”

She has engaged in this teaching work both in her home country and around the world. “In the last five years, I’ve also been teaching in the Department of South East Asia in Passau University in Germany, teaching the students the trans-disciplinary approach and its implementation on reality through creativity.” And now she comes to the United States to share her work.

Arahmaiani’s upcoming keynote presentation will include video and images of her performance work, and her topical focus remains the global environment and climate change. “We need to seriously deal with environmental problems locally and globally, because they are connected,” she said. “So we need to work together, no matter what you believe in or your cultural background.”

Arahmaiani insists that collaboration is key: “It is time for us to try to understand each other and work together to save the planet and the future generation!”

Arahmaiani gives her keynote presentation, “Between the Mountain & the Sea,” at the 2016 Southeast Asia Symposium, October 28 to 29 at University of Puget Sound, 1500 North Warner Street, Tacoma. For more information, visit www.pugetsound.edu/liase/2016-symposium.

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