As a result of this globalised world, in the echo of the text from the Her Nuclear Waters comic by Chitra Ganesh, ‘tattoo her onto this city’s skin, stroke by stroke by stroke’, I moved into and away from borders. Borders, at once as the physicality of territories of nations, and as cultural, psychological and linguistic divides; as sites of violence and militarisation.
My story is an urban journey that takes place within the acceleration of globalization that opened passages of information and access to new intimacy with locations. The unfolding of the expansive Arabian moonrise over the sea, on an Alpine landscape and the mystifying rays of sun upon Scottish lochs. The poignancy of this untouchable safety in my childhood memories, nourished by the universal scenes of the Earth has persisted well into my adulthood. However, in my adulthood, I have developed a deep concern about the shape shifting of identities in our hyper-technological era, and this is something I have never explored within university curricula.
Chitra Ganesh’s artistic world of comics creates a dystopian comfort through the intermingling of feminine hybrid bodies and the divinity of cyborg-like elements with Lacanian texts. Informed by her own upbringing in the US, with South Asian roots, she inhabits a duality in her lived experiences, and depicts a transcendental churning of artistic expression in her comics. At first glance, her comics compliment the Afrofuturist tradition: a term introduced by the scholar Mark Dery and developed by Alondra Nelson in the 1990s, to describe the African cultures and jazz musicians that reimagine the power of African root and conjure futuristic tales of empowerment (Nelson, 2012). Understanding this decolonial practice as a recreation of an imagined future opens us up to new frames of interpreting Ganesh’s art. For example, in The Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway (1991) rejects dualities that limit a feminist world view, such as: Western/Eastern historie and animal-human-tech divides. Haraway posits that a cyborg identity could represent women of colour, and other ‘Othering’ (outsider) identities that subvert normative white women identities. As she articulates, the cyborg identity’ does not know the Garden of Eden, does not know mud and cannot return to the dust’ (p. 151).
Just as Haraway rejects Biblical thematic spin, instead embracing the cyborg identity, there is mysticism in Chitra Ganesh’s dystopian universe too: a fiery flame-like landscape with high fumes, a scene in which an accident has taken place, with the injured blended into the shards and pieces of materials in the calamity. In the loom of a gracious feminine creature with a space-like suit, from her, a gush of blue liquid spills onto the injured like an anecdote, submerging them. There is ambiguity as to whether the feminine creature only just met with the sight of the accident or if the anecdote gestures a part of her duties and this space-like suit certainly separates her from the injured, whose nakedness denotes a vulnerability. The feminine creature looks upon the injured with an observing yet sympathetic gaze, as she kneels by the injured, her figure is thrown into not only a caregiving role but also as a savior of the injured. The female form is often depicted in victimized, eroticized or even helpless roles, but this comic offers a welcome respite, instead acknowledging the female form in an active, skilled labour and even a heroic commanding role. Perhaps the feminine creature in the space-like suit is staring at the carcass of her old self that she left behind in order to embrace this new-found cyborg identity whilst she struggles to revive her new self and to entirely let go of her old self. The image is gripped with mysticism, but one thing is clear: there is no point of return.
Furthermore, in the text ‘…under her skin rise and fall: an immortal jellyfish, of unspoken pleas & mechanical hands’ (Ganesh, 2013) we see Donna Haraway’s commitment to viewing hybridity as a site of affinity, not of identities, but of kinship. The soul of a cyborg identity is here fueled by elements of being human, of nature, animal, and technology, without borders/divides. Unlike Donna Haraway’s embrace of a singular hybrid identity, the scholar Homi K. Bhabha (2004) carves out a third space for identity. The ‘third space’ recognizes the antagonism within the diaspora, between wanting a nostalgic return to the merits of the past, a ‘nation’s dust’, and the misalignment of settlement in a nation that is socioculturally opp. Not imposed and non-hierarchical, the ‘third space’ does a charming dance in recreating a ‘safe’ hybrid space for the diaspora.
In Chitra Ganesh’s comics inspired by the Amar Chitra Katha comics from India, which recount popular Hindu stories, her artistic tones draw subjectivities of the cyborg identity, as opined by Donna Haraway. Further her work bleeds into the third space, a conjuring of Homi K. Bhabha’s ‘third space’ by addressing this diasporic antagonism. Art exists in “high” forms, within a white cubic spaces, where Chitra Ganesh’s comics adorn gallery walls, but also in “low” forms: comics in the hands of children and adults alike or familiar memorabilia in personalised spaces. As globalisation accelerated through the 1990s, unwinding and flattening access to information with a postmodern force, South Asian diaspora art like Chitra Ganesh’s remains a spot-on testimony to my lived experiences across locations. The simplistic terminology “diaspora” means “dispersion from the land of origin” – it doesn’t just embody dualities, as propounded by Donna Haraway, but goes beyond them. We need to enact real diversity and inclusion to mend our fractured curriculum – in studies of identity and media, but also of borders and oppression and culture. However, a truly transformative educational reform in the way that we look at, immerse in and connect with art, requires the recognition that our intimacies lie in the study of ourselves in relation to the others, and that identity and Othering often overlap in ways that mirror our complex, collective, interwoven lived experiences of our world.
Bhabha, Homi K. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.
Mekhala Dave is a doctoral researcher at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Her research is at the intersection of art and law. Her focus is on human rights representation from visual cues of art that is political and activist on issues of migration, ecology and gender.
Ketaki Zodgekar is a Research Assistant with the Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict project and a Master of Public Policy candidate, an editor for Project Myopia, and Frank Knox Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.
I am currently in the final year of my Law degree. When the time came to select the modules I would study this year I decided to pick the modules in which I knew I would feel represented and seen. Although I enjoyed the previous years of studying ‘Contract’, ‘Tort’, ‘Criminal’ and ‘Property Law’ I felt the need to expand my horizons; to study something that I had never had the opportunity to study before and probably would not have the opportunity to study again. So, alongside my modules ‘Equity Law’ and ‘Employment Law’, I elected to study modules in ‘Sex, Gender and Law’ and ‘Law and Race’. I had one more option left, and I was struggling to fill it when I spoke to my good friend Sheila. She had seen an open module listed on our University website– ‘African-American Music in the 20th century’– and when I clicked on it I immediately smiled. A module focussed on the music that I love but also drew on its West African heritage seemed to perfectly intersect with my interests and my personal heritage and so I jumped at the chance to study it. I am so grateful that I did.
Ali Smith’s novel There but for the tells the story of a man who, in the middle of a dinner party, locks himself in the spare room. The story unfolds over the course of the following year or so through the perspectives of four different characters whose lives the man, Miles, has touched in small ways. The characters whose voices comprise the story are Anna, an unemployed Scottish woman; Mark, a middle-aged gay man; May, an elderly woman with dementia; and Brooke, a 10-year-old Black girl. In each of their narrative turns, these characters reflect on experiences in their lives and how others perceive and react to them, giving the reader a rich and textured composite image of what human life can be in and around Greenwich, London in 2009-10. Smith’s novel marries realism and surrealism, satire and earnestness, and weaves it all together with wit and wordplay to create a compelling story of what it feels like to live in the political moment of the Recession.
I taught pre-honours literature at the University of Edinburgh for three years, and it never ceased to frustrate me, as a researcher specialised in contemporary literature, postcolonial criticism, and women’s studies, to expose future generations to the very curriculum centred on dead white men that I strove to escape by focusing my research on exploring (and celebrating) the work of living women of colour. Critiquing an antiquated curriculum and suggesting a wider breadth of reading to students during tutorials is one thing, but embedding diversity on the level of course design and organisation is another.