An abstract, geometric representation of a human face in red, green and gold, consisting of collaged elements and textures in shades of pink. Artists description: “The idea behind it is to ask the viewer to deconstruct, enquire, and reconstruct what is being offered, especially since 'Utopia' as a topic can be a very subjective concept.”

A Utopian Curriculum

Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

Part One: Introduction

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde (1891)

This is how Oscar Wilde described utopia in The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891). For him, the journey towards a better world was always a part of the human impulse, and it is in that spirit that I am pleased to offer this series with Project Myopia. Utopian Studies is often considered a niche field, but it has the potential to be a useful tool in the broader academic decolonisation movement.

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A digital illustration of an old dirty computer screen with a pac man style game on the screen.

Janelle Monáe’s ‘Dirty Computer – an emotion picture’

Cameron Perumal 

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Artwork by Maia Abayomi

‘Dirty Computer – an emotion picture’ is a narrative film accompanying Janelle Monáe’s 2018 album of the same name serving as a backdrop to (and catalyst for) its plot. It depicts the story of Jane 57821 – a femme-presenting, queer android – in a seemingly dystopian future. ‘Seemingly’ because the film almost scarily imitates an all too familiar contemporary political landscape and its relationship with the Other (including, as mentioned by Monáe in interviews, queerness, being minoritised, and the experience of being a Black woman). Jane 57821 is a queer android – inferred from her relationships with Zen and Ché (portrayed by Tessa Thompson and Jayson Aaron, respectively). Jane is also part of an underground resistance and is captured by the oppressive government, deemed a ‘dirty computer’ that needs to be cleaned, and has her memories deleted one by one – but not before the audience gets to relive each one. 

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Sun Ra’s Space Is The Place: A Radical Black reimagining of a better future

Oluwaseun Matiluko

Edited by Maria Torres-Quevedo

Artwork by Olivia Twist: YesOliviaTwist

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.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Jasmine Thakral

Edited by Karl Egerton

Illustration ‘Double Consciousness’ by Natasha Ruwona, https://www.behance.net/natasharuw40cf

The Hate U Give deals with the way in which police brutality and systematic criminalisation of black bodies damage African American communities, depicting the struggle often felt by people of colour between who they are and how they are perceived by the world. The events of the novel are particularly resonant in light of recent cases of police brutality which have resulted in the death of victims such as Trayvon Martin, which sparked the activist movement, Black Lives Matter. The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter as she negotiates the fallout from the horrific police brutality suffered by her friend Khalil. The novel explores Starr’s journey to finding her voice so that she can explicitly challenge police brutality against African Americans.

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Black Girlhood in ‘Bone Black’ by bell hooks, and ‘Zami’ by Audre Lorde

Francesca Sobande

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art by Olivia Twist: http://www.yesoliviatwist.com/

For some, the work of bell hooks needs no introduction. It may have represented their entry into Black feminist media and cultural critique, or the starting point of their understanding of the intersections of sexism and racism. I will always remember when I first came across the writings of hooks. I found such excitement in reading a distinctly Black feminist voice that is rarely found in university curricula. As I read hooks’ engaging analysis of media and consumer culture, I thought to myself “I never knew that academic writing could be like this!”.

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Interview with Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of ‘Harmless Like You’

Interview by Toby Sharpe

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Arta Ajeti https://www.instagram.com/artawork/

Could you start by describing your career? What do you do, and what have you written?

I wrote a novel called Harmless Like You about a Japanese artist living in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. She ends up abandoning her son. It’s about how and why that happens. Oh, and there’s a bald cat, if you’re a fan of bald cats.

I’m also the editor of an anthology called Go Home!, which is a collaboration with the Feminist Press and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. It’s a collection of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction about home by writers who identify as Asian or Asian-American.

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The Heat Death of the Universe by Pamela Zoline

Jossalyn Holbert

Edited by Jahna Hampshire

Art by Holly Summerson hollysummerson.wix.com/arts

Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” outlines a day in the life of Sarah Boyle, a married mother of an indeterminate number of children living in Alameda, California during the 1970’s. Her life consists of pink children’s bottoms fresh out of the tub, strawberry jam on a strawberry floor, cleaning her house and meticulously labelling the items within it as a means of creating some order in her cluttered space. Her home becomes an enclosed vacuum, a microcosm of the wider universe barreling quickly and unstoppably towards a state of complete chaos, entropy. Physics enters the story sideways and strangely, with the heat death of the universe occurring in Sarah Boyle’s very kitchen. She has no means to stop it, attempting every day to sweep, vacuum, dust, wipe down, and order every object before in her path – no small task given that there are 819 objects in the living room alone (4). Despite her efforts, entropy descends upon Sarah’s kitchen anyway. Throughout the text, Zoline combines a feminist critique of the heterosexual, nuclear family dynamic pervading life at the time with a metaphysical association of the home as a miniature universe. Sarah Boyle’s struggle is not only against the social norms that tie her to her kitchen, full of dripping strawberry ice cream and ‘wet jelly beans’ (8), but also the monumental, intangible, unconstrained laws of the universe. The only agency she has, then, comes with hastening the inevitable state of entropy so that it occurs all at once and by her own hands. In other words, Sarah Boyle trashes her kitchen.

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Black is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics

Temitope Ajileye

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art by Anonymous

“I don’t know where to begin […] because nothing has been written here. Once the first book comes, then we’ll know where to begin”. Barbara Smith

There is some irony in how I came across Black is Beautiful, a masterpiece created by African American scholar Paul C. Taylor. I was looking for Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and, while waiting for the bookshop staff to locate it (their attempts would eventually prove unsuccessful despite their certainty that ‘Russell has to be in the shop’), my eyes wandered and settled on Taylor’s book. How lucky I was!

        The opening quote, taken from Barbara Smith’s Toward a Black Feminist Criticism, immediately presents us with the urgency that the book tackles and tries to solve. There is much art by, about, and with black people, but not enough thought to connect them together, help us think more productively about black expressive culture, which would allow us to contextualise and understand our reactions to black art. There is a strong feeling that much can be said about this art and an even stronger desire for these intentions to be finally clearly stated.

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Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Anonymous

Edited by Jahna Hampshire

Art by Anonymous

After close to two years of studying anthropology, Zora Neale Hurston has yet to appear on any of my reading lists. This is a great shame, not only because it exemplifies the erasure of black women in academia that is all too common in higher education, but because her work specifically has so much to offer to new anthropology students.

While reading Mules and Men, Hurston’s ethnographic text on black communities around the American South, I was first struck by her confident centring of self. In great contrast to the majority of other ethnographic texts I have read, Hurston actively recognises her own place in the context of her fieldwork, making no attempt to hide herself in her ethnography. Rather, Hurston makes personal experience an equally valid and visible dimension of her ethnographic exploration, an approach whose significance I explored in a previous Myopia article (projectmyopia.com/toyin-odutola). In Mules and Men, Hurston unapologetically presents her jovial disputes with her research participants, casual banter with old friends and new acquaintances, and even being mocked and criticised by the people whose presence she was in. These honest and colloquial dialogues are not means to the ethnographic material, but the qualitative data itself… arguably, creating a richer picture that authentically describes the extent to which the presence and identity of the anthropologist affects the relationship between ethnographer and ethnographic subject; and the knowledge that is chronicled as a result.

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Caucasia by Danzy Senna

Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by Maïa Walcott https://maiawalcott98.wixsite.com/mysite

Danzy Senna’s first novel, Caucasia (1998), is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Birdie with a black academic father and a white mother who is the estranged descendant of a prominent Bostonian family. The story follows the highly problematic construction of the young girl’s identity after being separated from her sister and black father and growing up with her white mother on the road around New England assuming different racial identities, which she is able to do due to her ambiguous ethnicity and her ability to “pass” for white.  It is a story deeply indebted to the history of the American Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, and its philosophical preoccupations, providing poignant commentary on the trope of “lighting out,” a term taken from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, meaning going west, shedding history, and switching identities. While, during my undergraduate education, I studied a number of texts that addressed these genres and themes, Caucasia highlights the racialisation of the traditional American Bildungsroman and the American identity that it constructs in a way that none of the other texts I studied did.

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