Learning from Experience

Posted on May 9, 2014 | No Comments

iani 06By: Arahmaiani

In 1993, I was confronted by an improbable and inextricable problem. A group of people claiming to be pious Muslims “secured” 2 of my works (an installation and a painting) part of a solo exhibition titled “Sex, Religion & Coca -Cola”. They were adamant that I had committed blasphemy against Islam, because in my installation a copy of the Koran was presented next to a pack of condoms. While in the painting there were Arabic letters adjacent to the Lingga-Yoni, which was a picture of a phallus and a vagina. Their interpretation of the visualization or these works was so negative that they were compelled to without any hesitation, “secure” the works.

I was taken aback upon finding my works had disappeared from the exhibition space and hearing the explanation above from the owner of the space. I then asked him to organize a discussion because in my view the issue at hand was a difference of interpretation, and this needed to be talked about and discussed so that it would be clear for various parties such as activists, artists, culture experts, and spiritualists, as well as me, and the objecting party.

In the beginning the discussion proceeded smoothly although in the end it became rather tense because the people who had “secured” my works were adamant with their interpretation and considered me guilty and deserving of punishment! This resulted in a threat to me: that drinking my blood, was explicitly halal, allowed by law!

I then consulted several senior artists who all advised me to practice self-preservation because the meeting had proven that this Islamist group could not be expected to practice the common sense of rational thinking. This is the condition of life in this country that is considered to be a democracy.

So with unfocussed and confused feelings I first travelled to Solo where I stayed for more or less 6 months, until I received an invitation for a residency in Perth, Australia, where I stayed for a year. Eventually, I was able to return to my country, but it would not be last time that my views expressed through my artistic practice would result in the threatening of my safety and force me underground.

Organizations like freeDimensional provide crucial support to artists and culture workers who find themselves in situations like mine. Because I have experienced displacement and exile personally, I know the weight and significance of this work and support fD as an advisor and advocate. To ensure that artists can continue to create freely, and spark meaningful and necessary conversations in our society, please make your contribution to fD today.


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