Jane Otieno

Taring Padi: Land, water, earth, call me mother. Presentation at documenta fifteen. Hallenbad Ost, 2022 (Photo: Ruth Belinga)

Sounds of Nature: Analysis of a Woman’s Portrait Exhibited in Germany during Documenta Fifteen

This paper examines an art work created by a group of Indonesian artists, a woman’s portrait exhibited in Kassel, Germany during the documenta fifteen exhibition. The work highlights the power of collective resistance with particular emphasis on women. The artwork is of a woman pleasantly executed on canvas, in white and black. The face is left unshaded, against the deeply shaded lower part and the background section.

  • Jane Otieno
    Jane Otieno

    ke jao tp det

    Detail (Photo: Avi Sooful)


    The woman who seems to be in a reflective mood, shows a reserved demeanor and sadness. The face is not shaded, maybe to allow the viewer to project themselves more into the work and to give a clearer interpretation of the mood. The work done in ink probably with a filt-tip or a ball pen by use of line technique is effectively rendered in flowing, horizontal, curved and vertical manner to project her character and what she stands for.The good grasp of the leading lines sets the work in time and emotion. It creates a feeling of harmony between the individual and her surroundings and successfully portrays an element of resiliency in the midst of uncertainties. The subject’s predominance intimates to the viewer her feeling of absolute command of her surroundings with her well-coordinated and symmetrically placed figure. The woman communicates beyond the physical likeness and tells the viewer something about her character. There is no reason not to believe that she is protective of her space, bears compassion, at the same time, not afraid to share her feelings, pain, emotions and empathy that connects with others in openness.


    ke jao tp det2

    Detail (Photo: Avi Sooful)


    The writings written in red color,  that reads ”Tanah, air, bumi, panggil, aku ibu” (Indonesian, to be translated as ”land, water, earth, call me mother”) around the neck is glaring and tends to hold the entire work in place. It is a strong message intended to communicate to the viewer on environmental awareness and conservation of natural resources. Perhaps a deliberate attempt by the artists to draw attention to the area, helping to convey thematic ideas that distinguish the woman from the rest of the picture. The necklace has a pendant with a distinct shape of a baby, probably in the womb, is a symbolic reflection of continuity and a cry for protection for all, including the unborn. They too matter! The fine textured background has other people, holding hands in solidarity, a sign of peaceful co-existence and social commentary on issues faced.


    ke jao tp det3

    Detail (Photo: Avi Sooful)


    The woman is against the destruction of what she holds dearly, and can foresee everyday activities such as fishing destroyed. The trees create balance in the work, while Rhythm and movement run across the canvas with reflection of real life situations, with a natural background that enhances the theme. The work’s portrayal of versatility and fluidity cannot be ignored. The relationships and interactions between the activities in the background and the main figure creates a complex meaning on nature’s importance for the human survival. The creatively rendered items held on both hands form part of the attire, thus creating a visual interest that has symbolic value. The firm, full, protective hands, held close to her heart, are symbolic of the strength of a woman, giving an impression of a mother, caregiver and a nurturer. The woman, in her use of direct gaze says “This is who I am” with her direct expression. She attempts to explain herself, to unravel her character, to invite the viewer to her space even if only for a moment.


    The drawing which is both engaging and intriguing, depicts the experience of understanding the environment and its connection to everyday life, “the goodness of mother earth”. It shows unity of purpose whereby different cultures from different continents come together in solidarity to support a common cause as the bottom inscription says: “Masyarakat adat merayakan keberagaman” translated “Indigenous people celebrate diversity”. The work substantially cultivates through an emotional approach the development of a connection of various cultures with nature for a common good. It underscores the importance of art as best suited to examine human existence, and that of earthly surrounding that reflects in everyday experiences and confronts the terror of the universe.


    ke jao tp det4

     Detail (Photo: Avi Sooful)


    Portrayal of how women play important roles in the construction of social and cultural meaning of different societies is evident. The realization of the goodness of Mother Earth is also shown to be a collective responsibility of all. The subject, executed from frontal view, is a woman in deep thought and a suggestion of underlying hidden pain and struggle for social justice that is explicit in various cultures. Her pain in addressing the social evils is captured more in her facial expression. Art as an expression of what it means to be human, is seen in the work that has religious expression, cultural undertones and creative energy. The artwork depicts a mysticism that is fabricated and intertwined in the socio-cultural realm, religious beliefs within different cultures. A view shared by Kumail (2017) who notes that art is a product of society’s members and so also reflects the culture and traditions of that society. Community members help to shape and evolve their culture through their efforts in the production of art. At the point when a society establishes its own particular character, the next generation is born, absorbs this identity, helps to spread it, and educates the world about it.


    The black and white drawing portrays collective and creative abilities among different artists, with a show of a sense of togetherness that gives an idea of communal activity. The huge drawing distinctively points to the art of collaboration and understanding between different artists coming together for a common goal, which in turn, bonds them towards a shared future. The artists show their understanding of not only an aesthetic sensibility, but also an astute understanding of the local context, relationships and a co-creation process that engenders collective participation and ownership. The group work is a clear indication that artists do not function in isolation, and can use the visual language to transform a society. The work gives an impression of artists having good time as they work on one project thus creating a unique value of an artistic approach to community life and development. Lee, Lim, Liang, Zainuddin and Alhadad (2020) concur by stating that social issues are often unpacked when artworks are presented for sharing, eliciting further response, offering new opportunities for clarification, and imagination. The process thereby facilitates co-creation and joint decision-making because the finished product is not actually ‘finished’ as it continues to elicit reflection and dialogue. The arts are able to engage community in imaginative ways, creating a space for dialogue on community issues faced and also expanding the horizons of possible solutions.



    Art is depicted in this work as a means of dealing with uncertainties and envisage of better future. The work expresses emotions that are not necessarily spoken but are powerfully rendered. The subject, overwhelmingly is suggestive of what the innate emotion is. The work brings in the significance of women’s voices and contributions as very critical in advancement of our societies. The artwork shows the diversity of artistic expression and how artists collectively use the visual language to transform a society. Different artists working together in one canvas, bring in different perspectives to properly convey the woman’s story that cuts across different cultures. The collaboration among the artists is a sure way of harnessing strengths and sharing resources through processes that foster mutual respect, shared decision-making and open communication. The artists show their understanding of not only an aesthetic sensibility, but also an astute understanding of the local context and a co-creation process, that gives rise to collective participation and ownership in development of society. Can interdisciplinary approaches to art appreciation widen perspectives of and sensibility to the meaning of art? Can collaborative creation of artworks across many media offer many avenues of self-expression and, is it an effective way in the teaching and learning of art in our institutions? How can art educators work collaboratively and explore the use of multicultural and cross-disciplinary teaching strategies in art education?



    • Kumail M. Almusaly (2017). Painting our conflicts: A thematic analysis study on the role of artists in peacemaking and conflict resolution. Nova Southeastern University. Department of Conflict Resolution Studies. College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
    • Lee, Lim, Liang, Zainuddin and Alhadad (2020). The unique value of the arts in community development: A case study of ArtsWork Collaborative. Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan. Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore & Singapore University of Social Science.   


    Photo credits

    Belinga, R.C. Institute of Fine Art Foumban, University of Dischang, Cameroon & Sooful, A., University of Pretoria, South Africa.