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.
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.
A conversation between keondra bills freemyn and Rianna Walcott
Edited by Maia Walcott
Illustrated by Maia Walcott
In this conversation between keondra bills freemyn and Rianna Walcott they discuss the importance of recognising bias within both archival institutions and the archiving processes themselves. In this short interview we learn how keondra stumbled into archiving by collecting dear memories and holding them safe, which later evolved into a deeper love for recording other’s stories and ‘living archives’. They discuss problems with ideas of the ‘canon’, the need for structural change, and how we understand memory.
On a university or college campus, the library is used by every department and school. The library encompasses inter- and transdisciplinary resources, functioning as a place where collections of knowledge are stored and made available to use. While the above is true, these facts create an image of the library as neutral territory — a place where meaning passively resides — rather than as a site of active meaning-making. To accept this image without critique, however, would be to overlook both the importance and the problems of libraries.
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.
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?
In comparison to older visual languages such as painting, the relative newness of photography as a creative medium and the vast quantity of images it generates for consumption can be disorientating, especially when we want to evaluate the history of photography. As a tool, the image is highly flexible: historically, images have been digested by the public as a representation of social realities, despite their highly subjective and malleable nature. During my second year studying BA Photography at London College of Communication (UAL), we started to delve into theory surrounding contemporary photographic issues and practices. However, there was a noticeable vacuum in our lectures and recommended reading lists when it came to post-colonial critiques of images depicting the ‘Other’ throughout history. Though fascinating, all of the main thinkers whose theories our curriculum centred were greatly limited, their concepts produced through the prism of whiteness, masculinity and economic agency.