Illustrated by Olamide Florence Adeoye aka Sharp Txngue
Do you believe in spirits? And does it matter whether you do? Akwaeke Emezi taught me that to Black people this question is essential for collective survival the day I stumbled upon Freshwater (2018) in my partner’s bookshelf. The novel pulled me into the life of Ada, the child of a Nigerian father and Tamil mother who suffers the pain of being a spirit trapped in flesh. An ọgbanje, to be exact. Ada is born a screaming baby “with one foot on the other side” (back cover), only a half-step ahead of madness. When she moves to the United States for college and her boyfriend sexually assaults her, spirits that have been living inside her emerge and assume increasing autonomy: the feminine Asughara, masculine Saint Vincent, and a collective “We” of brothersisters. Ada continues life as a fractured, multiple being, navigating her several selves’ desires and darkness.
Illustrated by Olamide Florence Adeoye aka Sharp Txngue
“How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience?” (back cover) asks adrienne maree brown in her phenomenal book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019). Guided by its opening chapter, Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic As Power” (27-37), the anthology explores a world that centres pleasure and care for ourselves and others. The book doubles as a collection of radical theories and a study guide of hands-on practice. I was living in Cairo in 2021 when I stumbled across a class on pleasurable feminisms; a group of people gathered weekly to intimately study the book, intrigued by brown’s question: “How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?” (back cover). Over the course of three months, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good reordered my world view and became my road map on how to live a consciously political life without guilt.
I come to Dana through Saidiya. And Saidiya comes to Dana in relation to Venus. We all convene under a sky of grief particular to black women. Of the crushing weight of history. I pick up from where Saidiya leaves off. The archive, the futility, the resignation to language and history never being enough. Of failure as the new sky. But maybe also the new dawn.
I come across Kindred by Octavia Butler in a reference by Saidiya Hartman’s 2008 article, “Venus in Two Acts.” In the article, Hartman explores how the history of domination must be accepted by black people to try and untangle it. The article functions as a continuation of her earlier book, Lose Your Mother, where she charts the journey of the middle passage, loss, and connection to history. In “Venus in Two Acts,” Hartman continues this historical reconstruction and methodological struggle when she writes of a young girl who was murdered on a slave ship with little further information cited in the records. In both, Hartman highlights the difficulty in deciphering the blankness and violence in black historical narratives, while discussing the different options in the weighted obstacle of writing black history.
I think of mental health as the world’s lingua franca. I hear it spoken in the kitchen when female relatives season their meat with salt, Maggi, and tales of patriarchal violence. Its cadences caress the mouth of my elders as they gather and recount harrowing memories of the Biafran War. My friends and I speak it quite fluently as well: we use it to gist and articulate the many pains and joys that come with adulthood. The fascination that I have with this language, one that entwines our psychosocial wellbeing with our lived realities, is the reason I chose to study Neuroscience for my undergraduate degree.
In the summer of 2021, I wandered into Kenwood House, a stately home situated in the middle of Hampstead Heath, North London. Therein, I encountered this image.
The portrait provoked thoughts about the infantilisation of black men and the reinforcement of spurious inferiority through images and media. I continued to make my way through the gallery, where I came upon the only other historical portrait of a black person.
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.
“Women’s self-discovery process cannot be adapted to a man’s model.” 
Written by Stefania Frustagli
Edited by Veronica Vivi
Illustrated by Maia Abayomi
In the early stages of her writing life, Elena Ferrante considered her female nature a hindrance to her creative expression. “For a woman who has something to say,” she asked herself, “does it really take a miracle to dissolve the margins within which nature has enclosed her and show herself in her own words to the world?” . In her lecture, Ferrante discusses how much the male literary tradition has shaped, restrained women’s writing, and how she tries to overcome this. Ferrante also mentions this theme in an interview where she states, “Nobody (…) is the true name, perhaps, of any woman who writes, since she writes from within an essentially male tradition.” .
I still remember the days my parents and their friends would sit in the living room, ardently discussing the politics of the land. I used to be scared someone would knock on their doors and arrest them for even daring to speak. Freedom of speech in Nigeria is an illusion, and so is the right to vote. To be a patriot or to not be, I have spent my life asking myself this question. But I ache for this country, a country where a lot of citizens keep saying their daily “what-ifs.”: what if we were never colonized, what if the amalgamation did not happen, what if we all united? Reading “Of this our Country” reminded me of “There was a country,” by Chinua Achebe – the Nigeria he grew up in is so different from that which has been handed to us, the new generation of Nigerians.
Before I delve into this part of the Utopian Curriculum series, I must offer some thanks. First and foremost, to the incredible team at Project Myopia for their patience and compassion for me as an individual. The past several years have been difficult for so many of us and it is encouraging to see a publication actually embody the ethos of care and utopianism that we collectively agreed to explore when this series was first pitched. It is rare and makes all the difference. Second, specifically to Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevodo for your feedback and nurturing editing. It has been a real joy being asked to delve deeper into my thoughts in a way that was constructive and empowering. Third, to Iara Silva for your incredible artwork. Arresting visual media is a wonderful way to express complex thoughts – all the more relevant for this particular essay given the graphic nature of the source material.
And finally, to you dear reader, for sticking with this endeavour. It feels serendipitous offering my gratitude halfway through this curriculum, especially as so much has changed since it was first pitched. Part of this change is the actual source material itself. When I first included Superman as an example of utopia, it was a more generic take on the character and his history. But Superman has evolved since then and it is the specific take on his latest iteration – an openly queer child of a refugee with intentionally inclusive politics – that I will be exploring here.