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Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy

Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy
Arahmaiani, Siobhan Campbell
Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, Volume
3, Number 1, March 2019, pp. 201-213 (Article)
Published by NUS Press Pte Ltd
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Balancing Feminine and
Masculine Energy
by Arahmaiani
translated by Siobhan Campbell
My latest collaborative work with the Tritura Art Community in Yogyakarta
began early last year and explores the issue of balance—both in terms of
gender relations and in the sociopolitical and cultural sphere. Led by Sumarwan,
Tritura is a community of local artists who have worked with me for about 13
years. In our collaborative works, we usually investigate social, political and
cultural issues relevant to the communities of Yogyakarta. We often work
with academics and activists, and incorporate their research ndings. Our
opinions and attitudes are expressed through the works we exhibit in art
venues or larger public spaces. Sometimes we also produce collaborative
works with communities rather than with other artists, employing dierent
forms of expression such as group or individual demonstrations. These
varied forms of expression provide opportunities for anyone interested in
exploring fantasy and imagination to express themselves freely, unrestricted
by the norms and consensus of mainstream art, which are often shaped by
art institutions and the art market.
Our art medium is not restricted to painting, sculpture, installation,
photography, grati or video. We also employ performance art, text, music or
combinations of these, executed individually or in groups. We also emphasise
the methodology of balanced dialogue between male and female practitioners.
A further important aspect of our approach is the amalgamation of traditional
cultural practices and modern-contemporary culture in both the development
of the work and the ideas expressed. Modern-contemporary cultural practi-
tioners work alongside the practitioners of traditional art. This is one of the
key understandings underlying our interpretation of ‘cultural equality’, for this
Southeast of Now
Vol. 3 No. 1 (March 2019), pp. 201– 13
© Arahmaiani, translation © Siobhan Campbell 201
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0
International License
202 Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia
Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy 203
Tritura performing with the youths from Yogyakarta in Nusantara Flag Project, 2018. Photos
by Arahmaiani.
204 Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia
supports a free and open form of expression, which may even be highly
‘experimental’ in that it is not based on established and conventional forms
of expression. In short, forms of expression are unlimited and open to all
possibilities, even those regarded as unachievable.
In academic language, this way of working is often described as ‘trans- or
multi-disciplinary’, because in addition to combining various art mediums, we
combine dierent branches of knowledge and synchronise them. So while our
focus may be on a particular topic or theme, in the process of expressing
this, our attention may extend to related issues. For instance, if interpreted
substantively or symbolically, gender is related to issues common to marginal
groups, taking the basic assumption that ‘weak’ groups are dominated by
‘strong’/masculine groups. The culture of violence may also be a relevant part
of the subsequent analysis, where violence is not restricted to male violence
against women, but to broader understandings, including violence perpetrated
by the state or by economic systems, or even to forms of violence perpetrated
by commoditised systems of knowledge, in which the positions and roles of
scientists are exploited for capital or prot.
So while the basic focus of the work is gender equality, my analysis and
expression has extended to deal with power relations between the ‘strong’
and the ‘weak’, as well as the relational dynamics between binary opposites.
This is the result of taking a trans-disciplinary approach, since analysis reveals
that the issues have multiple origins. Consequently such an approach is also
described as holistic. Other perspectives, such as ancient philosophies (Asian
or Eastern still practised by some individuals), also take us in a similar direction.
Ancient philosophies do not consider binary opposites in black-and-white terms
but demand a more extensive analysis of the interdependencies between
various aspects and elements of life. I attempted to express this understanding
through the work “Lingga-Yoni”, which created great controversy in 1994 and
led to Islam hardliners declaring that “to drink my blood was halal”. This is also
reected in the Tibet Plateau project, where I tried to go beyond presenting
conict as a straightforward and competitive issue!
The complex issue of balance between opposing forces can also be
expressed in terms of the principle: ‘balance between feminine and masculine
energy’. What we think of as the truth cannot be seen from the uncomplicated
viewpoint of ‘wrong or right’ or ‘loser and winner’, but must be seen as a
‘sense’ of balance with push and pull tendencies. So we can never say that a
conclusion is decisive. Instead, it must be continually evaluated and discussed
so that in practice, with an awareness of these dynamics, a conclusion is not
easily reversed or subject to manipulation or corruption. Evaluating the values
of truth is ongoing, by means of critical evaluation (though also by considering
Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy 205
the ethics and morals within a given society). In addition, being open to various
scientic disciplines and their latest ndings makes it possible to grasp an
essential understanding or what we know as truth. In traditional philosophies,
this is usually described as understanding the wisdom of life.
So once we arrive at an understanding at this level, what we know as
truth becomes relative. It could be considered absolute, on the one hand,
and relative, on the other. This is due to an awareness of the dynamics of
opposing forces. In the same way, an understanding of context inuences our
conclusions. For example, a woman wearing the hijab (Islamic dress to cover
intimate parts of the body) may be regarded as ‘wrong’ if it is done due to
pressure from others, but if she herself has made the decision to wear that
type of clothing, it should be regarded as doing the ‘right’ thing—if it has
been done through her own mindfulness. And this is regarded as one of her
rights. Looking only at the physical aspect, all women who dress this way
would seem to lack independence and freedom. Yet in reality, once this issue
has been examined in more detail, it is evident that it is far more complex
than such a simple conclusion—unless our analysis is based on prejudice or
All of the dancers in this collaborative work wear the headscarf (jilbab) in
their daily lives. But when they dance, they wear costumes based on traditional
Javanese attire with headdresses and take o the headscarves to perform.
Is this wrong? Those with unyielding attitudes, who take a dogmatic approach
to religion, would say so. But those who use their intellect would not reach
such an easy conclusion! The same applies to the thin blouses with short
sleeves that reveal supposedly intimate parts of the body. It is not easy to
reach conclusions on this issue or by way of a dogmatic conviction. The most
important issue here is the fundamental question of whether our approach
to understanding truth and judging character can be based on the physical
evidence before our eyes. It seems far too simple and limited to conduct our
evaluation in that way.
In the performance of wayang klitih (at wooden shadow puppets) pre-
senting stories from the epic Ramayana (part of our Hindu-Buddhist cultural
heritage), the gure of Sinta is usually depicted as a victim of suering. But
in this collaboration, based on my work “I Don’t Want to be a Part of Your
Legend”, Sinta questions her situation and her unjust and unequal treatment.
In this work, Sinta is a key gure who not only questions her ‘marginalised’
position but also has independent ideas and opinions (the work is titled “Sinta
Protests”). In traditional versions of the epic, Sinta never has her own opinions,
but is treated like an object to be fought over between two strong males.
In our version, Sinta bears witness to the truth and has the courage to express
206 Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporar y and Modern Art in Asia
her opinions about Rahwana’s behaviour and even defends him! She is more
‘developed’ and mature. She not only defends her own rights but the rights of
others and even men!
Here the issue of gender balance is subtly reread and reinterpreted through
an artwork, in ways not easily expressed if it were to be retold in a black-and-
white format. Symbolic understandings and approaches are often more easily
expressed in art or literature, because the inexpressible can be communicated
in ways that are not possible in rational or logical approaches. This is regarded
as an intuitive approach—one that is not easy to describe but with distinct
power. The ‘marginal’ position of women in this work is also a symbol of
their marginal position in the social-political area. In our country, this is the
experience of non-Muslim or non-conformist Muslim women, those who are
labelled as being in the wrong and non-believers in the course of political
manipulations and scape-goating! The work “Proyek Bendera Nusantara”
[Archipelago Flag Project] was produced in response to this. The ags,
containing key phrases taken from dierent cultural groups and beliefs, are
displayed as both a performance piece and installation.
This work emphasises the value of pluralism, a value that we should all
honour. Every culture can make valuable contributions to peaceful communal
living. Valuing dierence and supporting equality make for a bright and
sustainable future. So in this way, dierence is a positive. This is critically
analysed in the work and will continue to be developed, given the number of
customary communities at risk. Not just because they are non-Muslim, but
because prot-orientated modernisation and development have destroyed, and
even eradicated, their livelihoods. Our nation has the second largest area of
tropical rainforest in the world. Yet our concept of development has led to
resource mining and palm oil plantations, resulting in the worst forest res this
century. Ecological balance in the region, and globally, has diminished, and a
number of sociopolitical issues require immediate attention, as they impact on
the lives of many people (and other creatures are threatened with extinction!).
Parts of the work explore voice and musical instruments (modern and
traditional), in which women and men interact on an equal footing. Both con-
tribute their expertise and explore the possibilities of creating new songs or
music to convey messages of equality, pluralism and a culture of non-violence.
They perform in public spaces and involve local youth. This was developed
as a long-term project to be performed in 14 subdistricts around Yogyakarta
(to date it has been performed in 3 subdistricts). In each venue, groups of
local youths are involved in organising, planning and performing the work.
During this process, new ideas and thoughts continue to ow, which are
accommodated and further developed. The same goes for the membership of
Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy 207
Upacara Kebo Ketan, 2016. Photos by Agus Supertramp
208 Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia
the group: as new members join, we try to adapt our strategies and methods
to accommodate the number of artists.
Another collaborative work, which began in 2014, explores gender equality
with the Keraton Ngiyom community in Ngawi, East Java. Like the latest colla-
boration in Yogyakarta, which started o exploring gender equality, this project
has since taken on dierent ideas and issues as it developed. Here the
environment and community empowerment has come to the fore. In addition
to the revitalisation of traditional cultures by reinterpreting the meanings of
traditional customs in line with contemporary practice, this community, led by
Bramantyo Priyosusilo, routinely holds large annual ‘new-style’ festivals in the
village of Sekaralas, Ngawi. Initially local communities and visiting artists were
involved, but they have grown to involve the local government, which now
supports these initiatives. Every year, more and more communities take part,
not just from East Java or Java itself, but from Sulawesi and Bali too.
This event begins with the performance of a ceremony titled Mbah Kodok
Rabi Peri Setyowati [The Marriage of Mbah Kodok and Peri Setyowati]. This
is based on a traditional Javanese story and a ceremony performed by agri-
cultural communities in East Java. Peri Setyowati is a symbol of the ‘feminine’
and ‘agent’ of the spiritual world, partnered with the ‘masculine’ and earthly
Mbah Kodok. In the performance of this ceremony, the concept of ‘balance’
is revived in a modern context. A ‘marriage’ takes place between traditional
and modern cultures, which promotes valuing equality and the principle of
balance. And life is not only considered in terms of the material and physical
world, but also in the spiritual, non-physical realm. The term ‘peri’ refers to a
Mbah Kodok Rabi Peri, 2015. Photo by Agus Supertramp
Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy 209
being that lives in an invisible ‘other realm’. In this kind of worldview, individuals
do not regard themselves as rulers of nature with the right to treat nature as
an object to be exploited; rather individuals are part of nature and must care
for and work in partnership with it.
After their marriage, two children are born, named Jaga Samudra (Prince
of the Ocean) and Sri Parwati (Goddess of the Earth), names that symbolise
care for the environment and the principle of balance. These values are
expressed in traditional Javanese culture through the sea and the mountain,
values emphasising the centrality of water and earth for life. The pair take
up residence at the village water source, regarded as the foremost source of
life. Consequently, various ceremonies are held at this water source. These
ceremonies also provide a creative outlet for the community. This community
has begun to experiment with organic rice farming and to implement a system
of organic agriculture in the village. Even though neighbouring villages and
the local government have responded positively to this, it will be a long
struggle. Changing long-held agricultural practices associated with the ‘Green
Revolution’, which is reliant on pesticides and chemical fertilisers, will naturally
take time.
To change farming practices that endanger the environment and cause
illnesses such as cancer, the Keraton Ngiyom community has implemented
an education programme through art and creative exploration. They also
‘embrace’ Muslim religious leaders, given that the majority of the Indonesian
population is Muslim. Muslim communities with educational facilities and
schools (pesantren) have not implemented any major education programmes
relating to organic farming or the environment. I know of only a few pesantren
that have done so. One of them is Amumarta, the oldest pesantren in
Yogyakarta, led by Kyai Jawis Masruri. After the massive earthquake of 2006,
we worked together to teach the students about environmental issues. It is
not easy to implement projects like this, due to the skills required to impart
new forms of knowledge and change behaviours. However, to date the school
has developed environmental friendly products, including batik made with
natural dyes, bio-fuel and oil pressed from the fruit of the nyamplung (tamanu/
laurel) plant.
This project continues to run without government support. And this in itself
is a serious issue for us: the central government has failed to treat environ-
mental issues seriously. Apart from the loss of vast areas of tropical forest and
increasingly evident environmental pollution, our nation is frequently subject
to oods and landslides. In addition to addressing equally pressing problems
like the socio-economic divide, we must deal with the environmental damage
caused by the ‘Green Revolution’, which in essence benetted only wealthy
210 Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Ar t in Asia
farmers and the state apparatus. Intense urbanisation followed this, because
notions of development did not take into account friendly and sustainable
environmental practices, but continued to follow the ‘development’ policies
of the New Order regime under the dictator Soeharto. This began with the
Bimas community guidance programmes of the 1970s, which were supposed
to bring about food self-reliance, but in fact resulted in many of the complex
In their upcoming programmes, the Keraton Ngiyom community will address
the issue of diversity, which is currently a challenging issue requiring serious
attention. The hardline Islamic movements gaining increasing support and
assistance from corrupt politicians, dubious intellectuals and wealthy business
people, threaten the national principleBhineka Tunggal Ika’ or Unity in
Diversity. This is in danger of being replaced by the new principle ‘Khilafah
Islamiyah, which sanctions all forms of violence against those considered to
hold dierent views. It can even be described as the return of the ‘New Order
Regime’. In response to this, the Keraton Ngiyom community is supporting
and performing the Nusantara Flag Project. Keraton Ngiyom plans to develop
new ideas to clarify the direction and commitment of those involved in this
initiative. In short, to respond to the following question: will we get involved
in the political maneuverings of the elite whose only interests are power,
money and their own group interests? Or will we remain an independent group
Garbage dumping site in Tibet, 2014. Photo by Feri Latief
Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy 211
committed to maintaining rational and virtuous principles, as an exemplary
model to all of clear-sightedness and observing moral and ethical values?
Another important collaboration exploring gender equality is my work with
a community of Tibetan monks in Khamp, on the Qinghai Plateau. Running
since 2010, it has resulted in artworks and practical eldwork relating to
environmental issues. The Tibetan Plateau is one of the largest areas of ice
on the planet, also known as the ‘Third Pole’ and ‘The Water Tower of Asia’,
with major rivers that ll river basins providing water to more than two billion
people, including the Yangtzse, Mekong, Yellow, Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra
and Salween. Global warming is degrading the ice (glaciers) and even the
permafrost, resulting in methane gas. The Asian continent has seen a rise in
oods, landslides and temperatures, and naturally the temperature of the earth
is rising too. This collaboration, which begun after a massive earthquake in
2010, attempts to deal with environmental issues by working with monks of
the Gelugpa order in the Lab monastery, located in the remote village of Lab.
During the rst 5 years, with support from head monk Kadheng Rinpoche,
lamas, monks and villages, we implemented 5 dierent projects with commu-
nities from 16 villages: waste management, replanting of trees, revitalisation of
traditional organic farming, revitalisation of nomadic lifestyles, and modifying
river water for everyday use and as an alternative energy source. Since 2015
government has endorsed and supported these programmes.
Monk praying for tree in the Lab Monastery area, 2014. Photo by Feri Latief
212 Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia
Nomad area in Lab Village, 2014. Photo by Feri Latief
Lama conducting a tree-planting ritual, 2014. Photo by Feri Latief
Balancing Feminine and Masculine Energy 213
Southeast of Now Vol. 3 No. 1 (March 2019), pp. 201– 13
Arahmaiani (born Bandung, 1961) is a leading figure in the contemporary art scene
in Indonesia, working in performance, painting, drawing, installation, video, poetry,
dance and music. She was one of the artists in the Indonesia National Pavilion at the
50th Venice Biennale. Her work has grappled with contemporary politics, violence,
critique of capital, the female body, and in recent years, her own identity, which
although Muslim, mediates between Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs.
She often uses her public presence to attract attention to violence in general, and
violence against women or female discrimination in Indonesia’s Islamic society, in
particular. Since September 11, she has combined her critical attitude toward Islam
with a fight against its general stigmatisation. She has also been working since 2010
with Tibetan monks in the Tibet Plateau on environmental issues.
This chapter explains why gender diversity is beneficial for organizations and institutions. The discussion begins with defining gender diversity in a way that goes beyond the discourse around men and women to include non-binary gender identities, cultural symbols, and archetypes. It provides a focus on the need to include those marginalized at the leadership level and at all levels of privilege and power in society. It illustrates the unconscious bias of decision makers which hampers diversity and inclusion. The chapter argues that the different genders come from different social contexts and experience distinctly different challenges, and thus lead in different ways. As a result, different leadership styles, lenses and approaches to policy and to how people work and engage with one another emerge from homophily compared to diversity in leadership teams and networks. Diversity enhances innovation and the ability of human and biological systems to thrive and evolve. Furthermore, diversity is important for organizations to grasp and embrace the diverse needs and interests of those served. Gender diversity therefore is essential not only for equality but for leadership effectiveness and organizational impact, thereby enhancing psychological, societal, and planetary health. Finally, the chapter provides recommendations for organizations and institutions to uncover unconscious bias and take the appropriate steps to enhance gender diversity, equality, and inclusion.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.