– Autumn/Winter 2016

Arahmaiani: Challenging the Status Quo

Wulan Dirgantoro

Arahmaiani, Offerings from A to Z, 1996. Performance view, Padaeng Crematorium, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Courtesy the artist and Indonesian Visual Art Archive (IVAA), Yogyakarta

In her contribution to the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Global Feminisms: New Directions in Contemporary Art’ (2007) at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, art historian Joan Kee critiques how the complexity of Asian women artists’ work is flattened out within an international context. She notes how international art critics and curators have tended to focus on artworks that are illustrative either of an art movement that can be assimilated into Western art historical models or of a specific sociopolitical context, thereby reducing the art of the region to a handful of themes. Kee discusses Arahmaiani’s performance Offerings from A to Z (1996) as representative of one such trope: ‘the artwork as a challenge to the systems that attempt to order women according to imposed agendas’.1 In this performance, realised in Thailand at the Padaeng Crematorium as part of Chiang Mai Social Installation (CMSI), the artist first laid herself down amongst weaponry and other items, then on a stone table used for washing corpses, surrounded by black-and-white images of scantily dressed heterosexual couples in erotic poses. ‘Standing at ground level and looking down at her body,’ Kee writes, ‘the