The Museum

They are telling lies in this museum,’ – Leila Aboulela (‘The Museum’ 18)

Martha Blow

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art by Livi Prendergast https://liviprendergast.wordpress.com/ 

It was in my fourth year of university that I came across Leila Aboulela, shelved under ‘suggested further reading’ for a seminar on a Postcolonialism course. Indeed, before taking this course, my exposure to non-western writers within required reading was limited to the obligatory inclusion of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in my second year. Although Aboulela’s novel The Translator occasionally crops up on postcolonial syllabi, it is her unflinching approach to colonialism in ‘The Museum’ that captured my attention and caused me to question museum ethics and neutrality. The 1997 short story’s value has not gone unrecognised elsewhere: it was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000. The 19-page tale paints the story of Shadia, a Sudanese woman studying at Aberdeen, and her acquaintance with a fellow student – a long-haired Scot named Bryan. The predominant theme of the story is the struggle of communication between colonialism’s ‘predetermined groups’, and while Bryan and Shadia begin to bridge the gap in communication, this is halted when they visit a local museum at the story’s denouement, culminating with Shadia’s announcement, ‘I shouldn’t be here with you. You shouldn’t talk to me…’ (Aboulela 18).

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Africa’s Tarnished Name

Fatima Seck

Edited by Jahna Hampshire and Rianna Walcott

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

In his superb essay Africa’s Tarnished Name, Chinua Achebe asserts that “colonisation gave the world… a particular way of looking (or, rather, not looking) at Africa that endures, alas, into our own day” (1998: 20). I see this way of looking every day in my social anthropology studies. Africa in our curriculum appears only in relation to those topics that are most exotic to the Western consciousness — like witchcraft and magic — and those of strife and poverty that too often dominate the discourse around our continent.

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Herland

Hannah Marcus

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Art by Figgy Guyver http://www.instagram.com/themineralfact/

The Barbican’s 2017 summer exhibition Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction, was a little disappointing. Firstly, unless you already had previous knowledge of the shows, films and novels the exhibit was about, the opportunity for learning was limited. Rachel Cooke summed this up well in The Guardian: “this ambitious sci-fi exhibition is big on content, but where is the context?” This dovetails neatly into my second criticism; this exhibition was essentially aimed at men. Not only in the content, which was overwhelming produced by men and about men, but also in the specific kind of childhood it invoked. As a woman interested in science fiction both academically and personally, I was unsurprised, and frustrated, by how little effort was made to include and inform a wider audience.

Perhaps this is why, when browsing the bookshop afterwards, I was drawn to Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The tonal quality of the blurb of the Vintage Classics edition was both soothing and intriguing, clearly intended to resonate with the modern feminist:

When three American men discover a community of women, living in perfect isolation in the Amazon, they decide there simply must be men somewhere. How could these women survive without man’s knowledge, experience and strength, not to mention reproductive power? In fact, what they have found is a civilisation free from disease, poverty and the weight of tradition. All alone, the women have created a society of calm and prosperity, a feminist utopia that dares to threaten the very concept of male superiority.

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Black is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics

Temitope Ajileye

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art by Fatima Seck

“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

Fatima Seck

Edited by Jahna Hampshire

Art by Fatima Seck

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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Moonlight

Fatima Seck

Edited by Maria Elena Torres-Quevedo

Art by Fatima Seck

In a year and a half of studying anthropology I’ve gathered one thing: apparently, LGBTQ folk do not exist.

With the exception of an optional reading about transgender sex workers in Brazil, and a discussion of the Vezo sarin’ampela, (described as men who live as and become women), I have not yet had the opportunity to learn about queer identities in my degree programme. Anthropology is a discipline characterised by breadth: quite literally anything can be studied anthropologically, and I appreciate that consequently, our studies must have certain limits and constraints. However I simply cannot accept that in the study of humanity — one guided by the question of what it means to be a person — LGBT+ identities do not have their rightful place. With the rise of incisive, beautiful and creative media by folks of marginalised backgrounds there is no shortage of content from which we can study queer folk, and I hope we can make these productions significant parts of our curriculum.

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Toyin Odutola

Fatima Seck

Edited by Rianna Walcott

Art by Fatima Seck

Contemporary anthropology is seldom malicious. Today’s anthropologists go to great lengths to remove themselves from the insidious origins of the discipline — no longer is anthropology a way to mock and ogle a ‘savage’ other. Indeed, anthropology has evolved to allow an extremely empathetic — maybe even beautiful — relationship between ethnographer and ethnographic subject to be the centre of its praxis.

To assume however that this empathy reaches the student is perhaps the most myopic practice of today’s anthropology. Ethnographic research inevitably travels across an academic landscape of anthropologists, notebooks, academic journals, lecturers and students. In this process, studied cultures become commodified, and even further, there is a tendency to uncritically assume the absence of the anthropologist’s voice. People who are empathetic subjects to the ethnographer become canonised objects to the student — teaching anthropology thus becomes a process of objectification.

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Selena

Izzy Bravo

Edited by Carolina Palacios

Art by Laila Borrie https://www.facebook.com/underthepeacocktree/

Each year in March I see a wave of young Latinas on social media expressing their love for Selena, as they share images of their Selena-inspired make-up, Selena outfits for the Selena club parties, and plans to watch Selena, the 1997 film that chronicles the short life of Selena Quintanilla. Why March? March 31 is the anniversary of Selena’s death, which occurred in 1995. And for any young Latina who grew up dancing to Selena’s “Como la Flor” in their living room, March is an important month to remember those days and the unhinged hope for a music idol. I grew up listening to Selena and have memories of my sister singing along to “Como la Flor” when it played in the radio. I can also recall trying to hide this fandom in a poor attempt to assimilate to the American culture I was learning in grade school. It was not until my first year of undergrad that I noticed it was suddenly okay to be Latino.

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