When Indonesian artist Arahmaiani says she is happy you believe her. But she’s not bouncing off the walls; no, she’s calm and grounded when we met her in Kuala Lumpur, even as she exudes positivity and hope.
Elsewhere, she has turned heads - and yes, has even been arrested and locked up - with her “provocative works”.
But for Song Of The Rainbow, her solo exhibition at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur, she keeps it simple and accessible with a collection of brightly-coloured paintings.
“These works serves to remind me and the audience about unity in diversity. The rainbow symbolises this principle and a song is simply a beautiful way to express this. It is a universal message that everyone can understand, regardless of their beliefs or backgrounds, ” she says.
Perhaps those who are well-acquainted with her more adamantly defiant work would find this a departure from the norm, but Arahmaiani is a woman who wears many hats.
She believes there are many ways to tell a story or to convey a message, and she walks the talk.
The role of an artist in today’s world is not so different from before, that is, to stimulate creativity, she says.
"But currently, the world seems to be in crisis and there are numerous issues that call for urgent intervention, like environmental issues and climate change, oppression and inequality.
"I don’t just dream," she says. "I work with the community to bring change. I take action. I remain optimistic and I hope that the younger generation will find the strength and power to be able to make a better future for all."
Besides being an artist, Arahmaiani is also a teacher, a writer, a poet, a theatre practitioner, a performer and an activist. She travels extensively around the world for exhibitions, but also to teach and to work on community projects.
“Besides being a creative practitioner, I am also a thinker. My so-called provocative work usually has thought, ideas and questions behind it, it isn’t something simple and sometimes it is misunderstood. My intention of creating such work is to further develop my understanding and creativity by having a dialogue with the audience.
"If that was not the point, I would just keep it to myself, right?” she muses.
Currently, Bandung-born Arahmaiani divides her time between Yogyakarta and Bali in Indonesia, Tibet and Germany.
She works in a variety of mediums including video, sculpture and installation.
Song Of The Rainbow is the newest addition to her Jawi script series which started in 1993.
“Do you feel happy when you look at it?” she asks, while gesturing to the bright colours around her.
Visually, these paintings are bold, vibrant and fun. And when she talks about them, she doesn’t start with talk of the future or standing up to bigotry; she just wants to know if they evoke joy in the viewer.
“We fight over our perceived differences, but if we were to respect and acknowledge these differences as part of the rich tapestry of human culture, we would all be happier. If we embrace this mentality, then we won’t tolerate inequality, oppression, violence and so on, simply because it goes against our principles.
"Compassion, kindness and respect for nature and all beings are fundamental teachings in life, no matter where you come from or who you are, ” she concludes.
Song Of The Rainbow is on at Richard Koh Fine Art, 229, Jalan Maarof in Kuala Lumpur, till Nov 23. Open: 10am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday). For more info, call 03-2095 3300.
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