KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — Her hair is flaming red and she is defiant.

With the accompanying words, “Keep your laws off my body,” this street art courtesy of feminist artist Yante Ismail is located on a wall of @27telawi, an art gallery, along Jalan Telawi.

This piece of art will be on the wall for the entire month and is part of the gallery's initiative, Wall of Voice, where a female artist is given the chance to come out of her comfort zone and use the wall to paint out a message or quote that has strongly influenced or helped her.

Being chosen for the month of March is especially memorable for Yante as March 8 is also International Women's Day.

The “laws” that Yante is referring to are the ones that dictate how women should exist in society.

It is her defiance against the “damaging patriarchal, societal, and religious constructs and norms that constantly dictate how a woman should exist in society.”

“It is as though society has a right to stake a claim over a woman's body, or how she should behave, or what she chooses to wear — or not wear, what shape her body should take.”

Yante has been painting for the past 15 years. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Yante has been painting for the past 15 years. — Picture by Hari Anggara

She added that the painting itself serves to illustrate that a woman's body is her own.

“That it is more than ornamental, more than a commodity, more than merely reproductive, or for the pleasure of men. Her body belongs to her alone.

“There is so much oppression. There is sexual harassment, women who have their opinions trivialised and they are not allowed to be angry.

“We need equal rights for both women and men. The patriarchy in society is equally damaging to men.”

Yante, who works for a humanitarian agency, is a self-taught figurative artist has been painting for the past 15 years.

Yante talking about her art. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Yante talking about her art. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Her preferred medium of art is oil, acrylic, or gouache on canvas on canvas.

This is her first work of street art.

“I normally work in isolation so any mistakes I make is in private. Street art is different because it is so public and visible. And there is no permanence. You know that it will be painted over. That is humbling — for an artist to accept that their work will not last forever.

“Doing this has also helped me start conversations with those who pass by and ask me about it.”

Painting it took her two days, with a little help from friends who helped her with “touching up.”

“I have used this particular 'woman' in my work before. So, it was just a matter of sketching it out on paper and scaling it up accordingly for the wall.

“Doing this has allowed me to explore and express myself using a different platform.”