Born in Bandung in 1961 and educated at the Bandung Institute of Technology in the early 1980s, Arahmaiani continued her studies at the Paddington Art School in Sydney, Australia and the Academie voor Beeldende Kunst in Enschede, Holland. Her multi-disciplinary practice spans performance art, video, installation, painting, drawing, dance, music, and poetry. Opposed to the estrangement of art and life in the academy, her early passage into art practice took place in the streets of Bandung where, together with a group of likeminded friends, she began to make performances with a strong social consciousness—what she termed “easy-art” as opposed to the prevailing academically conservative “difficult-art.” Developing from this trajectory, she is now one of a small number of Indonesian artists recognized and active in the international contemporary art circuits, having participated in the Venice, Gwangju, and Sao Paulo biennales, the Asia-Pacific Triennial, as well as noted international-scale exhibitions such as Cities on the Move and Global Feminism in the last twelve years.
Malaysian artist and art critic, Ray Langenbach, describes Arahmaiani as a “border intellectual,” that is, an individual who presents herself and her ideas, emerging from local and national contexts, as art and cultural expressions on a transnational platform, which are sometimes understood, in more critical terms, as marketable art and cultural commodities pliable to the ambitions and discourses of an increasingly transnational artworld. Her travels, guided by desires to seek more receptive contexts for her art practice and for learning and immersing in different religious and cultural contexts, have been extensive, taking her from European and American metropolitan centers to local communities within Southeast Asia where every effect of globalization is starkly seen and felt. In these diverse contexts, she has been continuously sharpening her observations and fashioning staunchly idealistic articulations on a range of issues revolving around globalization, religion, feminism, sexuality, and geopolitical Islam.