Watercolour painting on a streetscape in Lahore, Pakistan. The streetscape features colour canopies in blues, yellows and reds, balconies and windows.

Language: A Squatter’s Home

By Iffat Mirza

Artwork by Iffat Mirza

Edited by Katya Zabelski

There are some decisions that are made for us which completely change the trajectory of our lives. This experience is not anything particularly shocking or controversial, especially when those decisions were made for you as a child. As a nine-month-old, my family relocated from Lahore, Pakistan, to London, England. As I’m sure most children of immigrants feel, growing up with two cultures gave me a unique lens from which to interpret my experiences. Alternatively, is the realization that you are essentially an orphan of both cultures. Now I find myself quietly asking my mother what certain words mean during conversations at family gatherings, or I avoid wedding functions because I don’t know the words to any of the songs sung. It is the quotidian bumps in the road which remind you that you’re not quite home.

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The otherness of South Asian Art in British academia

Apoorva Singh

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Chila Kumari Burman was a member of the British Black Arts movement in the 1980s and one of the first South Asian women to make political art in the UK (Buck, 2020). Her work was most recently exhibited by Tate Britain in 2020, where her piece remembering a brave new world, filled with imagery of iconic Hindu deities and South Asian aesthetics, was the gallery’s winter commission. South Asian feminist perspectives on post-colonial Britain are centred in Burman’s work, which spans multiple media, from printmaking and painting, to installation and film. In my exploration of Chila Kumari Burman, I started to wonder: How do we read and understand her artwork? Is it post-colonial, South Asian, feminist or British? How should we define the artwork’s aesthetic and cultural underpinnings?

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A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM PART FOUR: VOGUING

PART FOUR: VOGUING

By Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

As I continue to write this Utopian Curriculum series, it feels important to address questions raised from previous essays. In online conversations and email exchanges around parts two (Black Panther) and three (Sultana’s Dream), a particular point raised was whether something can be truly utopian if it is only positive and ideal for a specific demographic. It is apt, then, to dedicate part four to the art form of voguing.

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Basking in the Afterglow: Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’

Laura Hackshaw

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Artwork by Maia Walcott

Moonlight has been an unprecedented and much needed piece of art which transcends the basic categories and labels that accompany the ideals of it simply being a unique ‘independent’ movie or at its most reductive, a movie about what it is like to be a young, black, gay boy becoming a man. Moonlight is about running through doors with your eyes closed not knowing how to find your way to the other side. It is about the fear, the panic, the discomfort and the frustration of having to come to terms with your own identity when your identity itself is based on societies preconceptions and expectations of who you should be, how you should talk, walk and who you should love – all before understanding how to first love yourself. It is profound because it transforms and challenges common ideologies surrounding black male-hood; black male tenderness and affection, the redemptive power of mentors, music and community and how these all shape the people we become. 

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The Gypsy Goddess

Vaishali Bhargava

Edited by Muireann Crowley

Artwork by Kelechi Hafstad: Kelechi Anna Photography

Remember, dear reader, I write from a land where people wrap up newborn babies in clumsy rags and deck the dead in incredible finery.” (Kandasamy 24)

Literature encompasses several paths of inspiration for me and I tread one of them in the Indian author, Meena Kandasamy’s debut novel The Gypsy Goddess (2014). This is a whimsical fictional narrative based on the bloody massacre of 1968 in the Kilvenmani village, located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India. Without striving hard for authenticity she inspires me to write dramatically in the right parts while holding reader’s attention. Her pen isn’t afraid of unveiling that which decorum usually hides and carries “the tales of their cunts and their cuntress and their cuntentants . . .” (Kandasamy 67) for she is on a fearless mission.

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Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman: a Mirrored World

Erin Hutton

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevado

Artwork by Natasha Ruwona: https://www.behance.net/natasharuw40cf

I read Noughts and Crosses when I was about thirteen. It is the first powerful book that I can remember reading. However, re-reading my slightly battered copy at eighteen was a very different experience.  It was easier to understand that good people, like the characters in the book, could react so badly to violence. The terrorism in the story is painfully similar to current news headlines. Finally, after studying the fight for Black American civil rights at school, I could clearly see where Blackman got her inspiration. The scene where nought children face a mob of angry crosses to get into a decent school could have been drawn straight from the textbook photos of Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas, 1957.  This seems especially important when one considers the things people said to the author as she was writing: “‘Slavery is in the past’, ‘Why d’you want to rehash something so painful?’, ‘Why do black people always harp on about slavery?’”(Penguin Random House, 2016). Perhaps, if books like Blackman’s were studied at university level, people would be less likely to have these attitudes, especially if the novel’s stark confrontation of cruelty made them consider that their comments are insulting. There are many example of history where people have ignored atrocities as they occurred.

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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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There but for the by Ali Smith

Allie Kerper

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by Edith Pritchett https://www.instagram.com/edithpritchett_art/

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.

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Postcolonial Climate Change: John Akomfrah and a discourse of difference

Clara de Massol

Edited by Muireann Crowley

Art by Sarah Summers https://www.instagram.com/ssssummers/

This article considers the ways in which postcolonial studies are integral to understanding climate change. Our planet is warming at an alarming rate; islands and coasts all around the planet are slowly drowning; and species are disappearing in the thousands each year as a result. In less than 100 years, climates and ecosystems will be completely altered; this will have profound implications on humanity in terms of our survival as well as our collective identity. In the last few years, the discussion around ecology and identity has crystallised around the concept of the Anthropocene, the name given to the geological epoch superseding the Holocene, in which human activity on earth becomes the main geological force. Confronting anthropogenic climate change involves destabilising the dominant cultural narratives regulating societies to understand and formulate the intersection of ecology and postcolonialism.

The Anthropocene was introduced by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 and urges us to rethink our relationship to our planet and to the life forms inhabiting it. The Anthropocene debate, along with concepts of globalisation and cosmopolitanism create the illusion that ‘we are all in this together’ (Braidotti, 2017), that with the advent of climate and ecological disasters, a kind of planetary citizenship and solidarity has formed. But this apparent interdependence and planetary empathy is in fact a neoliberal system of differentiation and hierarchy. Butler explains that in this climate, ‘some lives are grievable, and others are not; the differential allocation of grievability that decides what kind of subject is and must be grieved, which kind of subject is not, operates to produce and maintain certain exclusionary conceptions of who is normatively human’ (2004, xiv).

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Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag (Essence of the Lotus) by Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain

Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Karl Egerton

Art by Priyanka Meenakshi https://www.priyankameenakshi.com/

Utopianism has been a part of Western academia since the work of Lyman Tower Sargent in the 1970s. Taking its etymological roots from Thomas More’s Utopia, it is an interdisciplinary subject that explores human hopes and imagination in radical ways. It aims to build a better tomorrow by criticising the past and the present. It has a broad emancipatory potential which draws in a wide range of scholarship. As an avowed utopianist, I am proud to have my work counted in this field. Yet utopianism is often lacking in racial and cultural diversity. This is a major failing in a field that is supposed to be about challenging oppressive norms.

One of the reasons for this is because of the sources in the canon. Although modern works include writers of colour such as Octavia Butler, there is an assumption that classical utopian literature is almost exclusively white and male. Yet this leaves out a diverse range of texts that imagine the scope of human hope in intersectional ways. An author whose work I feel challenges this white Eurocentrism is Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain. Known in Bangladesh as Begum Rokeya, her life is taught extensively in middle school but is surprisingly absent in later education. Having first studied her biography in History when I was in my early teens, I rediscovered her work in the course of researching my thesis.

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