Reclaiming the Southeast Asian Goddess: Examples from Contemporary Art by Women
By Flaudette May V. Datuin
Image & Gender, vol. 6, 2006, pp.105-119


In this essay, I will invoke – as a form of strategic essentialism – the figure of the Southeast Asian goddess and the babaylan, the ancient priestess as theme, metaphor and signifier for women’s life-giving, nurturing and healing powers. By reclaiming the legacy of the Southeast Asian goddess, I will present the emerging outlines of a Southeast Asian feminist framework revolving around embodied spirituality – a concept where the body is construed as an anatomical, spiritual, social and psychic space grounded on fluidity and wholeness, instead of hierarchy and dualities. In the process, I will argue that while most women artists in Southeast Asia are not consciously and overtly “feminist,” they nonetheless point to the contours of emerging feminisms in Southeast Asia, and perhaps, in Asia. These “feminisms” cannot be defined solely on the basis of individual autonomy, hinged on sexual and body-centered liberation (as in radical feminism); or on “equal rights” in an untransformed social structure (as in liberal feminism).Drawing from my ongoing study and engagement with women artists in the visual arts of Southeast Asia, I will present examples of how selected Philippine, Indonesian and Thai women artists articulate and embody the Southeast Asian goddess figure through their lives and their works.

Submitted by: Mary Ann Ubaldo and Lorial Crowder
Full text accessed 5/31/2009