Digital artwork - a blue background with circular shapes overlayed in yellow and black. On the left hand side there is an outline of the African continent

History as Imagination: Black Dreaming as Liberation

By Alma Alma

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Artwork by Natasha Ruwona

Words are important for history as it is through words that history is told. So, what is the language of an untold history? It is the language of imagination, dreams, of interpretation of the tongue. For marginalised communities, history is the study of loss – a loss that is sometimes irretrievable. Without conventional historical sources, the past remains a locked door, but with an imaginative approach through a combination of personal experience, memory, and creativity there can be a re-construction of the past. With black history often found in oral traditions, folklore, and music, these stories are frequently at odds with more conventional historical practices such as written documents and official records, thus leaving them unexplored and untold. The work of black women writers such as Dionne Brand and Toni Cade Bambara shows how this hurdle can be overcome through an illustrative and imaginative writing practice.  

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A moving image with an Instagram filter. The image was taken by the writer in Jamaica on their family's land. It is a beautiful landscape with rolling green hills and the ocean on the horizon, a beautiful blue sky with white clouds.

Communing with Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon

By Kamara Dyer Simms

Artwork by Kamara Dyer Simms

Edited by Hannah McGurk

Dionne Brand’s At the Full and Change of the Moon was the focal novel for my undergraduate dissertation on Black futurity, nonlinear temporality, and imagination. While I’m not convinced that diversifying the curriculum within the current academy has enough bearing on any decolonial or anticolonial work that disrupts the academy, I still meditate with how I’ve been gifted by this novel and my accompanying piece of scholarship — how the philosophy ritualistically grounds me as a scholar and creative, how the prose holds me tenderly and with fullness, and how the metaphors guide me to dream futures for myself and my loved ones “with no hope of gratitude or remembrance” (Brand 21-22). Brand’s prose is poetry, and communing with her work continues to move me to imagine beyond what the carceral and linear structures of time dictate.

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A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM

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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Unlearning British Biphobic Bias with “The Bi-ble”

Gemma Avens

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by @worthdrawingwell

Unsurprisingly, most of the authors in The Bi-ble wrote of feeling silenced and isolated around their bisexuality, convinced that their struggles were unique to them. In fact, similar feelings are what led me to find the anthology and tear through it at breakneck speed. The Bi-ble discusses the authors’ experiences of bisexuality in Britain: of marginalisation, exploring their sexuality, and reclaiming their identity — finding power and joy in the process. The collection is an extremely valuable academic resource and one of very few books about bisexuality in Britain — bisexuality, here, being romantic or sexual attraction to multiple genders.

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Queer Phenomenology: ‘While Standing in Line for Death’ by CA Conrad

Clara Hancock

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by Яachel Lee

‘We are time machines of water and flesh patterned for destruction, if we do not release the trauma.’ (CAConrad, 2017) 

CAConrad is a gender non-conforming poet and activist. I first came across their work in the 2018 Beatrice Gibson film I HOPE I’M LOUD WHEN I’M DEAD, which emphasises the necessity of poetry during the current American political crisis. Since discovering Conrad and their ‘(soma)tic’ bodily rituals, my own writing practice has been significantly altered, as I developed a deeper awareness of poetic embodiment. While Standing in Line for Death (Conrad, 2017) consists of 18 (soma)tic rituals, alongside poems that result from them. (Soma)tic poetics is a union of ‘soma’, a spiritual term derived from Sanskrit, meaning ‘to press and be newly born’ and ‘somatic’, the Greek term for the body. Conrad’s (soma)tic poetry investigates the space between body and spirit, and exposes the ways in which corporeality is integral to creativity, grief, expression and survival. ​The writing that emerges from these rituals repeatedly reminds us of the ways in which emotion is both bodily, cognitive, and a meeting point between the world and ourselves (Herd, 2017).

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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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Zero Patience

Eleanor Affleck

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by Kirsty Kennedy

I came across John Greyson’s 1993 film Zero Patience: A Musical About AIDS in the first semester of my Queer History masters. I wanted to learn new approaches to public history with the aim of making LGBTQIA+ history and queer politics more visible. The film explored problems I was coming up against in my own practice as a historian, especially questions I began to form about how (and if) my work in institutions could relate to my activism. I think it is important watching for anyone involved in the field of history and museum studies.

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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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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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NOTHING OF WOMAN IN ME by Juliano Zaffino

Diane Lowman

Edited by Abigail Eardley

Art by Iara Silva: www.instagram.com/iiaraz_

Often, the contemporary eye looks at Shakespeare’s plots and characters with a certain skepticism. No matter how timeless and universal the themes – the joy, the anguish, the love – we cannot help but wonder: how could a mother not recognise her own twins? Do those simple disguises really trick everyone? And perhaps most persistently for me, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, what’s up with all these women? Under the auspices of the patriarchal system in early modern England, female Shakespearean characters are often submissive, with few admirable exceptions: the Princess in Love’s Labours Lost and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing come to mind.  Ultimately however, Kate in Taming of the Shrew and others like her, leave modern women shaking their heads.

Any author of fiction – and Shakespeare is no exception – asks an audience to momentarily suspend disbelief. In novels, films, and plays, ghosts walk, witches prophesize, and statues come alive. But still, that final question persists: what is up with all these women? In Nothing of Woman in Me, which debuted in February 2018 at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford Upon Avon, and will be reprised in July at the RSC Dell, director and playwright Juliano Zaffino attempts to answer this question. Zaffino earned his MA in Shakespeare and Theatre from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford Upon Avon, and will pursue his PhD there next year. As a gay man, he has first-hand experience of belonging to a marginalised group in society. By exploring the psyches of some of Shakespeare’s most complex and thought-provoking female characters, Zaffino hoped to give expression to all silenced populations by “capturing the voice of women throughout history and in our modern day, and unifying these voices through the vehicles of Shakespeare’s voiceless women.”[1] He “brought his experience to the table: my life as a gay man, the women who had raised me and whom I had grown up with, the reading and watching and listening I had done.” The dawning of the #MeToo era has offered a relevant and powerful backdrop for his work, having finally provided the opportunity for many muted female voices to whisper, speak, and shout above decades of oppressive abuse. No longer willing to suffer in silence as if that were the norm, women from professional, political, academic, and personal backgrounds are setting each other free by telling their truths. Women in Shakespeare’s time could not do that: but Zaffino imagines what it might have been like if they could have.

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