– Autumn/Winter 2016

The Premise of Contradiction and Feminist Politics: Reflections on Arahmaiani's Art and Life

Angela Dimitrakaki

Arahmaiani, Free Market Indonesia, 2008. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York

Arahmaiani’s art and activism suggest that she may have lived a slightly different history of the world. Or, to be more precise, born in Bandung, Indonesia in 1961, she seems to have lived a prefigured history of the world as known in 2016. This, of course, has to do with the vantage point from which the history of the world is normatively written and, by implication, presumed to be lived and ‘known’. It is a vantage point affirming the hegemony, in the Gramscian sense of the word, of a ‘Western experience’, and the principal issue addressed in this short essay concerns the conflicts and contradictions this hegemony generates for feminist politics in the global art field.

  1. The controversial phrase ‘clash of civilisations’ was coined by Samuel P. Huntington in 1993 (‘The Clash of Civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs, vol.72, no.3, Summer 1993, pp.22–49), and was frequently echoed in talk of George W. Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11.

  2. Objections were raised both against Etalase as blasphemous art and against the painting Lingga-Yoni (both 1994), which pictured a Hindu symbol combining male and female genitals against a background reading ‘nature is a book’ scripted in Jawi. See ‘A Conversation with Arahmaiani’ (with Susan Syllas and Chrysanne Stathacos), Mommy [blog], 20 April 2014, available at http://www.mommybysilasandsta thacos.com/2014/04/20/a-conversation-with-arahmaiani/ (last accessed on 5 June 2016).

  3. In 2010, Arahmaiani began a collaboration with Tibetan monks on the commons of water, a long-term project near Yushu in Tibet. See Arahmaiani Feisal, ‘My Second Life in Tibet’, Art Asia Pacific, issue 79, July-August 2012, available at http://trfineart.com/pdfs/reviews/0000/0505/AAP79_SecondLifeIn Tibet_Arahmaiani.pdf (last accessed on 5 June 2016).

  4. 'Global Feminisms’, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum, New York, 23 March–1 July 2007, curated by Maura Reilly and Linda Nochlin. The exhibition included 87 women artists from around the world and aimed ‘to move beyond the specifically Western brand of feminism that has been perceived as the dominant voice of feminist and artistic practice’. See https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/global_feminisms/ (last accessed on 5 June 2016).

  5. Roberta Smith, ‘They Are Artists Who Are Women; Hear Them Roar’, The New York Times, 23 March 2007, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/23/arts/design/23glob.html?_r=0 (last accessed on 5 June 2016).

  6. On the canon, feminism and capitalism in a global context, see Angela Dimitrakaki, Lara Perry et al., ‘Constant Redistribution: A Roundtable on Feminism, Art and the Curatorial Field’, Journal of Curatorial Studies, vol.2, no.2, June 2012, pp.218–41.

  7. Arahmaiani, ‘The Basis of My Thought Is a Concern with Balance, or the Conjunction of Opposites’ (1993), unpublished manuscript.

  8. R. Smith, ‘They Are Artists Who Are Women; Hear Them Roar’, op. cit.

  9. See ‘A Conversation with Arahmaiani’, op. cit.

  10. Arahmaiani, ‘The Basis of My Thought Is a Concern with Balance, or the Conjunction of Opposites’, op. cit.

  11. 'A Conversation with Arahmaiani’, op. cit. Arahmaiani stresses that most of the Indonesian migrant workers working in contemporary slavery conditions are women.

  12. See Arahmaiani, ‘Menolak Tragedi Kekerasan’, Kompas, 12 March 2016, p.26. With thanks to Suzan Piper for providing an English translation.

  13. See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: The Will to Knowledge (1976, trans. Robert Hurley), London: Penguin, 1998.

  14. Malcolm Bull, ‘Globalization and Biopolitics: Introduction to New Left Review 45’, New Left Review, no.45, May–June 2007, pp.1–2. Emphasis added.

  15. The dominant meaning of private and public is problematised by strands of leftist feminist thought. See Endnotes, ‘The Logic of Gender’, Endnotes, issue 3, September 2013, available at https://endnotes.org. uk/issues/3/en/endnotes-the-logic-of-gender (last accessed on 5 June 2016).

  16. M. Bull, ‘Globalization and Biopolitics: Introduction to New Left Review 45’, op. cit., pp.1–2.

  17. On the avant-garde and neo-avant-garde, see Hal Foster, The Return of the Real, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996.

  18. M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, op. cit., p.140.

  19. Indicatively, see Agence France-Presse in Warsaw, ‘Protesters call for near-total ban on abortions in Poland’, The Guardian, 15 May 2016, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/15/ abortions-poland-demonstrators-call-near-total-ban (last accessed on 5 June 2016); and Gillian Pascall and Anna Kwak, Gender Regimes in Transition in Central and Eastern Europe, Bristol: Polity Press, 2005.

  20. The ILO has reported that in 2016: ‘Inequality between women and men persists in global labour markets, in respect of opportunities, treatment and outcomes. Over the last two decades, women’s significant progress in educational achievements has not translated into a comparable improvement in their position at work. In many regions in the world, in comparison to men, women are more likely to become and remain unemployed, have fewer chances to participate in the labour force and [...] have to accept lower quality jobs’, and ‘between 1995 and 2015, the global female labour force participation rate decreased from 52.4 to 49.6 per cent’. The same report stresses that women do most of the ‘unpaid care and household work’. International Labour Organization, Women at Work, Trends 2016: Executive Summary, Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2016, p.3.

  21. Arahmaiani, ‘Handle without Care’ (1997), re.act feminism #2 [website], available at http://www. reactfeminism.org/entry.php?l=lb&id=231&e=&v=&a=&t= (last accessed on 5 May 2016). Emphasis added.

  22. See Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, London: Verso, 1991, pp.67–97.

  23. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

  24. Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848, trans. Samuel Moore), available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf (last accessed on 5 June 2016).