On Translations: Events at Nottingham Contemporary

Join our Nottingham Contemporary friends and colleagues for a series of events on translation in February, and for a book launch in January:

Book launch of Undead Uprising, the latest by artist John Cussans (Ruskin, University of Oxford), where Andy Asquith (Postdoc at University of Nottingham) will be in conversation with John. John’s work revolves around the Haitian revolution, zombies and voodoo.
Conference – On Translations
17th Feb 10am-5pm
This one-day event of talks and performances brings together artists and scholars to explore the cultural and political contradictions that arise in processes of translation.
The conference aims to question the ambiguities embedded in translation, ranging from the erasure of languages and epistemologies by colonialism, to contemporary transnational and globalised connections.
Speakers include: Andrew Goffey, Dima Hamadeh, Fehras Publishing Practices, Ghazal Mosadeq, Quinsy Gario, Rana Hamadeh, Stefan Nowotny, and more…
Seminar (16th Feb) with Rolando Vazquez ‘Translation as Erasure’ 


‘Postcolonial Sexualities’ film screening, Nottingham Contemporary, Saturday 19th August 2017

Ka Bodyscapes
Saturday August 19th, 4-6:30pm
Free. The Space. Nottingham Contemporary

Please join us for a screening of two films exploring South Asian sexualities, followed by Q&A discussion with director Jayan Cherian and Dr Rahul Rao (SOAS), chaired by Dr Humaira Saeed (NTU).

Ka Bodyscapes (2016) dir. Jayan Cherian. 1h 39min
Three young people, Haris, a gay painter; Vishnu, a rural kabaddi player and their friend Sia, an activist who refuse to conform to dominant norms of femininity, struggle to find space and happiness in a conservative Indian City.

Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan (2015) dir. F. Fiaz. 25min 
Poshida is a groundbreaking independent documentary following LGBT individuals in Pakistan, exploring their history, culture and challenges. The film examines sexuality and gender identities in south Asia and discusses colonialism, religion, class and the influence of US foreign policy. 

There will also be an associated performance event after the screening in the Nottingham Contemporary CafeBar. Free and open to all!

Ghada Karmi reading at Five Leaves Bookshop, 13th May 2017

Ghada Karmi Reading at Fives Leaves Bookshop, Saturday 13th May 2017

 Ghada Karmi

Ghada Karmi was forced to leave Jerusalem in 1949 and settled with her family in North London, where she still lives today. She practiced as a medical doctor, has held several research appointments and is the author of academic works as well as literary accounts that deal with the ongoing struggle of Palestinians.


Beginning the reading with an extract from the introduction to her memoir In Search of Fatima (2002), Karmi emphasised that her book came about through a wish to write about the Palestinian situation in human and accessible form, in order to get away from the discourse of political treaties and economic research studies. These, she argued, could have never expressed the world of Palestinian feelings, thoughts and stories in the way that a literary memoir could – she wanted to first and foremost make readers understand Palestinians as humans rather than an indistinguishable collective. Despite the very intimate first person narrative throughout her memoir, it is, according to Karmi, the preface that elicits the most emotional responses to her book: there, in the third person, she depicts the moment when nine-year old Ghada had to leave her home in West Jerusalem, and more traumatically at the time, leave behind the family dog. Afterwards, her family settled in North London and while Karmi’s parents could not bear the thought of their irrevocably changed homeland and never returned, she visited many times but eventually decided that visiting was not enough which lead to a longer visit in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority ministry in 2005 – the foundation for Return: A Palestinian Memoir (2015). This second personal account marks her attempt at reconciling her two identities as both an an exile, largely having profited from a rather privileged life in the UK, and her own labelling as a “full-time Palestinian”, and the ensuing painful realisation that those who she perceives to be her own people, do not immediately reciprocate that sentiment. The two memoirs, documenting departure and return to the same and yet very different region, set out to record a personal history to engage a wider audience and create space for a people’s (hi)story. If the evening with Ghada Karmi has shown one thing, it is that the personal has always been, and will continue to be, highly political.

  • Veronika Schuchter

HopeRoad Prize for Postcolonial Literary Studies

New prize: The HopeRoad Prize for Postcolonial Literary Studies

We are delighted to announce that we have welcomed HopeRoad publishers as the newest sponsor of one of our prizes awarded to graduating students in English who demonstrate excellence in specialist fields. HopeRoad provide a generous £50 in books from their catalogue to be divided between the two students whose work demonstrates the best originality and rigour in the field of postcolonial literary studies. Students will be nominated for the prize by their lecturers, and the prize will be awarded at graduation.

HopeRoad Publishing is an exciting, independent publisher, vigorously supporting voices too often neglected by the mainstream. We are promoters of literature with a special focus on Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. At the heart of our publishing is the love of outstanding writing from writers you, the reader, would have otherwise missed.


HopeRoad writers include Pete Kalu, Jean Goulbourne, Maggie Harris, and Jeremy Cameron.

The prize will reward the successful students with some fascinating new reading for the summer but more importantly, the prize will signal exceptional ability in a specialist field which may have a positive impact on applications for Masters courses and funding, PhD research and research funding, and employment. HopeRoad are also looking for new writers to publish: who knows, some of our winners (and, of course, other students and staff) may even go on to publish their academic or creative work with HopeRoad!

Response to Neelam Srivastava, ‘Fashioning the Anti-Colonial Narrative: Literary Pan-Africanism and Claude McKay’s “Great Ethiopian Novel”’ (18 January 2017) by Keeley Jones

Response to Neelam Srivastava, ‘Fashioning the Anti-Colonial Narrative: Literary Pan-Africanism and Claude McKay’s “Great Ethiopian Novel”’

18 January 2017

by Keeley Jones

Dr Neelam Srivastava of Newcastle University highlighted the particularities of Italian colonialism and its relationship with Pan-Africanism, particularly as this is considered to be a somewhat neglected part of colonial history. Italian colonialism in east Africa contributed to Pan-Africanism, a global movement which encourages solidarity and unity amongst diasporic communities of African descent. In her discussion, Dr Srivastava outlined Italian colonial discourse and the large Italian settler working community in Ethiopia.

Dr Srivastava continued to explore how this invasion impacted on Black and diasporic communities in Harlem in particular, as she emphasised that Black identity does not simply exist in national contexts. Afrocentrism, the ideology that focuses on the history of Black Africans and how they contributed to Western civilisation, prompted many like Claude McKay to write back against racial prejudice from an anti-colonial perspective. Written in 1941 and to be published later this year, McKay’s recovered, unfinished novel Amiable with Big Teeth creates new recognition of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and regards it as an important historical event. Dr Srivastava spoke highly of his work, of his interpretation of communism, and his aim to recover Ethiopia as a focal point for Black identity and race consciousness. This Afrocentric narrative succeeds in analysing how people perceive communism and the struggle in Black diasporic communities.

Concluding the seminar, Dr Srivastava encouraged people to question the differences between African American diasporas and other diasporic communities, additionally highlighting that whilst anti-colonialism longs for true freedom, it is not without its struggles. The importance of unity and solidarity amongst diasporic communities is emphasised via the abandonment of the term ‘negro’, as this was a slave given name. Whilst slavery will always be a part of Black history, it is a lesson to be learned from: it does not define them or the nation.

Moreover, the significant links between the invasion of Ethiopia and the forming of Pan-Africanism become more apparent. In an anti-colonial narrative, Claude McKay offers a unique insight into the impact that somewhat underestimated historical events have had.

Keeley Jones is a second year student on BA (Hons) English at NTU. In Spring 2017, Keeley undertook work placement at the Postcolonial Studies Centre.

Response to Sofia Aatkar, talk on Caribbean Travel Writing (3 March 2017, by Keeley Jones)

Caribbean Travel Writing

3 March 2017

Sofia Aatkar

by Keeley Jones

As part of Global Week’s celebration of diversity and culture, Caribbean travel writing is one of many sessions designed to inform people about Caribbean culture and how this is conveyed through Postcolonial travel writing. In a welcoming social environment, students, ambassadors, and passers-by were invited to the talk for an opportunity to make the most of the week’s final events, and learn about a new topic.

Travel writing as a genre often aims to create realistic and descriptive accounts of travel in new locations. More specifically, postcolonial travel writing challenges the Eurocentrism often identified in travel writing, critiquing the world view that appears in western civilization, and western society. Additionally, Postcolonial travel writing aims to write back against cultural stereotypes, and common themes include identity, nation, otherness, diaspora and hybridity. In the discussion held by a current PhD student in the Centre for Travel Writing Studies and the Postcolonial Studies Centre at Nottingham Trent University, the lack of current research about Caribbean British travel narratives was outlined, and why it is so important to learn about the origins of the Caribbean. In addition to the history of the culture, the travel aspect itself has a big impact, and it was further highlighted that an individual’s identity and nationality affects their opinion on travel as a whole.

Whilst the group discussion remained fairly informal and free-flowing, it primarily focused on the work of Caryl Phillips, who was born in the Caribbean and migrated to the UK when he was one year old. In his work, he often describes his journey to the United States and Europe, and his position as black man in Europe. Moreover, Phillips interrogates black European and black British identity, and the prevailing racism throughout Europe. When exploring Phillips’ travel to Amsterdam, it becomes evident to the reader that although black people here are used in the liberal framework that is Amsterdam and the red light district, they are not able to enjoy this as other tourists would. The exploitation highlighted in Phillips’ narrative conveys a lack of progress for what is considered a liberal city, detailing the experience from a personal perspective. As a result of this, Phillips’ travel writing successfully challenges our idea of contemporary Europe, questioning whether it is truly as evolved as we think.

Not only is it important to understand the origins of these cultures through postcolonial travel writing, but it is also important to focus on the need for education in order to eliminate ignorance and the ostracizing of others, purely out of fear of the unknown. Within a European sense of entitlement, we reject ideas which we know very little about, and we are not introduced to wider global issues. Whilst it can be argued this is due to the way we are conditioned in society, it remains an issue nonetheless. As global week comes to an end, the talk on Caribbean travel writing successfully concluded the fundamental lessons to take away: it is important to celebrate diversity in a way that not only embraces other cultures across the globe, but simultaneously educates us. It becomes more evident that Western society is perhaps not as liberal as we think, and education and open-mindedness are the first steps to solving this issue.

Keeley Jones is a second year student on BA (Hons) English at NTU. In Spring 2017, Keeley undertook work placement at the Postcolonial Studies Centre.

Review: Open Mic Poetry Evening – City Global Lounge (by Keeley Jones)

Review: Open Mic Poetry Evening, City Global Lounge

3 March 2017

by Keeley Jones


Throughout Global Week at Nottingham Trent University, different cultures are explored in order to celebrate diversity and raise awareness about important global issues. With events of all kinds taking place, the open mic poetry evening allowed people the opportunity to deliver their work in celebration of global week. Organised by Kyle Hutchinson and held in the city global lounge by the Creative Writing Society, issues were raised regarding identity and our place in the world, as well providing a refreshing opportunity to meet new people of different backgrounds.

Opening with a poem centred around urban living, the first performer focused largely on the small, mundane details of everyday life and its repetitive cycle, such as each minor action taken to make a cup of tea, the amount of sugar added, and the sound of the spoon hitting against the mug. Whilst this is not only designed to depict the life of an individual in Western society, it introduced the idea of the self as a mere fragment in a small world. Subsequently, the audience was encouraged to question this perspective, or rather challenge the cosmopolitan view that we are all a part of the same large world.

Themes of identity and cultural heritage were explored throughout the rest of the performances, outlining western privilege. ‘A Citizen of Nowhere’, written by Chris Page, critiqued the ignorance of Western society for its lack of knowledge and interest in other cultures. It was argued that too many people are oblivious to the issues around them, and that we are not able to label ourselves as citizens of the world when we don’t know enough about the world itself. This theme became more prominent throughout the evening, highlighting the importance of appreciating other cultures and individual backgrounds. Additionally, some poems even portrayed the struggles within a diasporic community from personal experience, and how this impacts an individual’s sense of identity: there are certain expectations based on where you come from, where you associate as ‘home’ and how others in society perceive this. These issues were highlighted and portrayed in a new light, both expressing inner feelings and writing back against cultural stereotypes.

In a large but intimate group of people from different backgrounds, performers were given a space to express their own experiences and how these have been affected by the issues that Global Week aims to raise awareness of. For those not necessarily engaged in Global affairs and the cultural issues that occur in societies every day, the open mic evening succeeded in raising awareness about Postcolonial issues and their overall individual experiences.

Keeley Jones is a second year student on BA (Hons) English at NTU. In Spring 2017, Keeley undertook work placement at the Postcolonial Studies Centre.

University Funded PhD Studentship: Postcolonial Literatures: Activism, Resistance, Consciousness

Nottingham Trent University
School of Arts and Humanities, University Funded PhD Studentship, 2017 Entry

Supervised by Dr Anna Ball/Dr Jenni Ramone/Dr Nicole Thiara – Postcolonial Literatures: Activism, Resistance, Consciousness

For informal discussion regarding the project, please contact: 
anna.ball@ntu.ac.uk; jenni.ramone@ntu.ac.uk; nicole.thiara@ntu.ac.uk

Applications are invited for a project focused on the analysis of postcolonial literary texts (in all forms and genres, including film and visual culture) which engage in some way with activism, resistance, and/or consciousness. Projects are invited which engage with any region relevant to Postcolonial Studies, but the supervisory team have specific research interests in the following locations: South Asia; Middle East, particularly Israel/Palestine; Nigeria; North Africa; Cuba; UK (Black British writing; British Asian writing; Middle Eastern diaspora writing).

Projects might address one or more of the following questions (the list is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive) in relation to their regional focus and period: In what ways do postcolonial literary texts represent activism, or resistance events and movements? What forms does cultural activism take in postcolonial literary texts? What different spaces do resistance or activist movements occupy in literary texts? How might a twenty-first century postcolonial literary studies intersect with other modes of social activism, consciousness-raising, and resistance, for instance as evidenced in the Occupy Movement? What forms of consciousness persist in contemporary postcolonial writing, and how does this relate to previous forms (such as 1970s Black Consciousness)? What relationships exist between postcolonial literature and activism, resistance, or consciousness?

We invite projects which demonstrate a sound understanding of the ways in which their focus and scope (the literary texts, the research questions, the region and period) relate to postcolonial studies, while emphasizing the potential breadth of this field. We therefore invite projects which engage with neocolonialism, transnationalism, neoliberalism, migration and diaspora, including contemporary migration in the context of globalization.

The supervisory team have particular research interests in the following areas and invite projects which engage with resistance, activism, and/or consciousness in these subjects or in other postcolonial contexts: 
Dalit literature 
The literary marketplace 
Postcolonial feminism 
Representations of refugee experience 
Literature and film 
Spatial theory 
Translation theory

Entry Criteria UK 1st Class/2:1 Bachelor’s degree (or UK equivalent according to NARIC), or 2:2 with UK Masters degree with minimum of merit in English Literature or a related subject. Good knowledge of postcolonial studies (demonstrated through undergraduate or postgraduate work, or other engagement with the field)

The closing date for applications is 12 pm, Friday 9 December 2016.


Important note: all applications for the project must be accompanied by a research proposal, which should be approximately 1000-2000 words. Proposals should (1) identify the proposed research supervisor from the list shown below, and (2) give details of your proposed research project. The proposal should be clearly aligned to the PhD topic listed.

The full list of Arts and Humanities 2017 studentships at NTU is below:

1. Professor Bill Niven – Remembering and Representing Genocide 
2. Professor Phil Leonard – Contemporary Literature, Culture, Politics 
3. Dr Duncan Grewcock – Emotional Heritage and Interpretation: The Workhouse in Britain 
4. Professor Martin O’Shaughnessy – Film in the Crisis 
5. Dr Anna Ball/Dr Jenni Ramone/Dr Nicole Thiara – Postcolonial Literatures: Activism, Resistance, Consciousness 
6. Dr Chris Reynolds – 1968 @ 50 
7. Dr Natalie Braber – Language Variation in the East Midlands 
8. Dr Nicholas Morton/Dr Natasha Hodgson – Religion and Conflict in the age of the Crusades, 1050-1400 
9. Professor Jean-Pierre Boulé – Contemporary French and Francophone Literature 
10. Dr Nick Hayes – Local welfare and hospital provision in Britain 1900-50 
11. Professor Andrew Thacker – Modernism, Modernity and Periodical Culture 
12. Dr Daniel Cordle – Nuclear Literature and Culture

The closing date for applications is 12 pm, Friday 9 December 2016.


Fidel Castro’s legacy: education, culture, and the arts

29 November 2016

by Jenni Ramone

This is a draft version of an article appearing in The Conversation https://theconversation.com/education-and-art-for-all-castros-cultural-legacy-69513

Since the announcement of his death, the global media has represented Fidel Castro in two ways: as brutal dictator, or as glamorous guerrilla. Both depictions are reductive and inaccurate, failing to acknowledge the reasons behind the Revolution, also Castro’s legacy: a society with equal access to health, wealth, and opportunity regardless of class, gender, or race.

The Revolution involved a military operation, but its aims were not to create a military dictatorship. Castro cited the lack of rural education and access to adequate schools as a primary impulse for seeking social change in 1953. Immediately after the 1959 Revolution, in a speech in Holguin in February 1960, Castro celebrated the creation of the fourth School City in a little over a year since the Revolution, in this case providing access to education and transport to school for 4,000 children.

Before the Revolution, 40% of the population had been fully illiterate, unable even to write their name. By 1961, Castro’s Literacy Campaign had almost entirely eradicated illiteracy by sending thousands of young teachers into rural areas to teach farmers and their families to read and write. Pupils’ letters and teachers’ journals can be read in the Museo de la Alfabetización in Marianao – tellingly, this museum, set within a large school complex, is situated on a former military airfield. Education, not war, was Castro’s priority.

Cubans also enjoyed literary and creative culture. After literacy, instructores de arte (cultural teachers) taught art and music in rural areas, schools, and factories. By the early 1970s, talleres literarios, literary workshops, were established across Cuba. Artists and writers were – and are – valued: they are state employees, combining creative practice with complementary roles in theatres, libraries, and galleries.

The prominence and prevalence of arts and culture in Cuba is enviable: Havana dedicates one of its four city squares to a second-hand book market operating daily excluding Sundays. Bestselling writer Leonardo Padura sets his detective fiction in this market and in Havana’s libraries and literary spaces.

Literary culture dominates spaces that were, before the Revolution, symbolic of war: the book market stands in Plaza de Armas (‘Weapons Square’), formerly used for military formation practice. Cuba’s annual literary festival is situated in the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, a vast colonial fortress that, before the Revolution, fired a cannon nightly at 9:00pm to alert the (mostly black) workers to evacuate the city and return to the shanty towns that existed before the Revolution’s Housing Decree (1959), Urban Reform Law (1960), and programme of building government homes leased with lifetime occupancy rights at a rate of 10 percent of family income.

Cuban cities teem with small, open art galleries, and Cuba’s artists travel internationally (last month, the Presente! Exhibition showed thirty contemporary Cuban artists at the GX gallery in London). Exhibitions have an international focus: the Taller Grafica print artists’ workshop located at Plaza de la Catedral celebrates collaborations between Cuba and Mexico. Casa de Las Americas, a hub for the arts, hosts conferences, exhibitions, publications, and community engagement: it exists to bring together practitioners from across Latin America.

Cuba’s internationalism in arts and culture reflects principles throughout the administration: Cuba provides support logically incompatible with its size in response to disasters, including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Recent media coverage responds to positive images of Castro by alleging human rights abuses against gay people. Equality of sexuality and gender identity was not an initial aim of the Revolution in 1959, but later this was seen as an error by Castro, and since the mid-seventies, there is increasing state support for gay rights and expression. A comparison between Cuba, the UK, and the US, yields interesting results.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967 (excluding the armed forces), in Scotland in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982. However, until 1994 this only applied over the age of 21, and the age of consent was only aligned in 2000. In the US, it was only in 2003 that homosexuality was decriminalised. Before 2003, US anti-sodomy laws imposed prison sentences with hard labour, including life sentences in Idaho. Aversion therapy including shock treatment was used in the US before 1973, and in the UK until the late 1970s. Donald Trump’s aide Mike Pence wanted to ‘cure’ gay people by sending them to institutions which operate in the US on an elective basis.

Some might add that the US and UK are guilty of human rights abuses that Cuba is accused of: there are recent stories of Human Rights abuses at Standing Rock; invasion of privacy with the Investigatory Powers Act; and charity Shelter reports that 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas in Britain.

Homosexuality has been legal for people over 16 since 1979 in Cuba. From 1965 Cuban labour camps housed gay men and implemented 14-hour working days and rudimentary living conditions – at this time Castro did, indeed, make derogatory comments about gay men. However, after visiting a labour camp and meeting men held there in 1968, he closed the camps. In recent years, Castro’s attitude towards sexuality and gender identity was entirely in keeping with his attitudes towards racial, social class, and gender equality.

Arts and culture in Cuba reflect this attitude. State-run TV soap operas represent same-sex relationships positively, and the acclaimed Cuban film Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, by Senel Paz) foregrounds gay relationships critiquing past homophobia in Cuba. In the UK, it is still rare to see same-sex couples expressing affection in public. In central Havana last year, on a warm July midday, I passed a young gay couple holding hands without even attracting attention.

It doesn’t excuse one state if others are equally discriminatory, but it does help to put Cuba in perspective. Fidel Castro’s Revolution replaced a military dictatorship built on organised crime and racist discrimination with equality of opportunity to health, housing, wealth, education, culture, and the arts.


Critical Interventions: Home, Belonging and Krísis (by Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall)

A response to ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ symposium (Friday 29th October)

30 November 2016

Critical Interventions: Home, Belonging and Krísis

By Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall

The art exhibition, Krísis, is curated by Something Human,[1] and is presented in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, Bonington Gallery and Nottingham Contemporary. The exhibition runs from Thursday 28th October 2016 – Friday 9th December 2016, and explores how art and performance can approach questions such as ‘how can we use states of crisis as a way to rethink the future?’[2] ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ was part of a series of events linked to the art exhibition. This one-day symposium (Friday 29th October) included performative lectures, and talks by artists and invited speakers about how states of social, political or cultural crisis are addressed and conveyed through artistic expression (including literature and visual culture). Dr Anna Ball, Dr Roy Smith and Professor Duncan Higgins facilitated the talks and mediated conversations throughout the day, and thus helped the speakers to create a collective dialogue about notions of crisis across a broad range of topics. In June 2016, the United Nations refugee agency announced that ‘[t]he number of people displaced by conflict is at the highest level ever recorded’,[3] and subsequently, a discourse has emerged within the media surrounding what has been dubbed ‘Europe’s migrant crisis’.[4] In this vein, the present blog post will specifically consider the talks which explored how issues of displacement and homelessness are represented within literature and the media, and concludes by discussing some of the issues raised in the talk by representatives from Nottingham Refugee Forum (NRF).

Veronika Schuchter, a visiting scholar at Nottingham Trent University, analysed notions of home in contemporary travel culture and literature. Schuchter began by highlighting the slippery nature of the term ‘home’, stating that it can refer to a physical and highly ritualised space of dwelling, or an abstract space which can evoke a sense of belonging. She observed how companies like Easy Jet and Airbnb capitalise on their customers’ dependence on the notion of home, as their adverts paradoxically encourage people to leave their homes and travel whilst simultaneously reassuring them that they can inhabit a homely space once they reach their destination. These companies, it seems, have created a new travel culture whereby the traveller can – quite literally in the case of Airbnb – experience a home away from home. Part of this homely experience, Schuchter argued, is linked to (and might be dictated by) the traveller’s ability to connect to Wi-Fi at their destination, and thus she proposed that, in a contemporary context, home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically. This observation suggests that modern technology has influenced how the ‘selfie generation’ conceptualise the notion of home when they are ‘away’ from home.

Schuchter analysed three contemporary novels – Restlessness (1998) by Aritha van Herk, Hotel World (2001) by Ali Smith and The Embassy of Cambodia (2013) by Zadie Smith – and explored how authors represent the idea of home in their work. By discussing these texts in conjunction, Schuchter emphasised that the notion of home is ambiguous and personal to the individual, as each protagonist creates their own meaning of this highly-contested term. When these texts are read under the rubric of travel literature, it is somewhat unsurprising that each protagonist’s conceptualisation of home is developed through travel, stasis or through their relationship with a hotel. Dorcas, the protagonist in Restlessness, is a compulsive traveller, but she recognises that each time she ventures beyond her home country she is rendered Other. Dorcas chooses to end her own life[5] in the hotel – a space which Schuchter suggested represents home for Dorcas because it provides a sense of stability for her erratic state of mind. The protagonist of Hotel World, Else, is a homeless woman who begs for money outside a hotel in an anonymous British city until she is invited to spend one night in the establishment. Schuchter quoted a particularly poignant passage from the text – one which describes the moment Else peers out of the window in her hotel room and sees ‘her remains; her sleeping bag, her blanket, her day’s takings. Where she sits each day is piled like a mistake, like rubbish, against the edge of the hotel’.[6] Fatou, the protagonist in The Embassy of Cambodia, is a young girl from Ivory Coast, who, Smith implies, is an illegal immigrant in Britain. Over the course of the narrative, we learn that Fatou works as a domestic servant for a family in London; her employers grant her an extremely limited independence and confiscate her passport, which confines Fatou within an intimate domestic setting in which she does not belong. Notions of unbelonging, displacement and homelessness are central to all three of the novels Schuchter discussed. Consequently, the presentation highlighted how literature, as a cultural form, raises questions about home – a space that is often perceived as neutral and unproblematic. Schuchter’s discussion revealed how authors can make states of international crisis, such as migration, register on a personal level by representing these states of emergency through a protagonist. As such, Schuchter showed how figures who are readily cast as Other in xenophobic discourses can be humanised through the medium of literature.

This relationship between media and literature has a prevailing impact on the ways in which refugee experience is articulated in popular discourses in the west. Professor of English at NTU, Phil Leonard’s paper ‘Sacred Shores’ took the refugee crisis as its focus, and in particular, the journeys many refugees undertake from Syria to Greece. The shore, for Leonard, represents a liminal space between the quasi-safety offered by European social apparatuses – that is, the legal, economic, and political structures in any single nation state – and the danger posed by an unwieldy journey across the Aegean Sea. Drawing on various marketing campaigns and adverts, the shore becomes a space in which desperate refugees make contact with loved ones on a mobile phone which glows warmly in the faces of its users. In one advert, and set against a red sunset, the shore conflates the spaces of risk, safety, and tourism, rendering the shore as all of these and, at the same time, neither. But the liminality of the shore raises questions around refugee experiences. When do refugees arrive?, Leonard asks. Is it on the border, some ten miles off the shore; is it when they appear on the beach; or is it when asylum is granted? Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s work, Leonard described the concept of ‘homo sacer’, the figure who has no legal status and is rendered as killable because of it.[7] As such, refugees are placed in this category. Refugees, therefore, are rendered victims in terms of their governments’ misguided political decisions, victims of their own bad judgment – by sailing across turbulent stretches of water in nothing more than a flimsy rubber dinghy – or perhaps by failing to seek asylum closer to home, in neighbouring countries, which does not involve a perilous journey. Most importantly for Leonard, their status as victims is not explained in terms of Western – particularly, European – states’ legal frameworks. In such narratives, the West, in some ways, becomes the victim, rather than the perpetrator of hardship for refugees.

This chimed with NRF’s talk in which they discussed the notion of ‘lives not worthy of living’, a mantra used in Nazi Germany and legitimised in contemporary narratives on the refugee crisis through the (above) concept of homo sacer. This narrative is something the NRF spends some time tackling, not only in the sense of refugees’ own shame because their value is constructed through narratives of deserving and undeserving, but also through narratives that conflate refugees’ status as rivals to working-class British workers. ‘Migrants’, ‘refugees’, ‘immigrants’ and ‘asylum seekers’ are terms which have been used synonymously since the refugee crisis to justify anger towards refugees as those which, so the narrative goes, seek to take housing provision, jobs, and welfare support from ‘deserving’ Britons. Indeed, as one volunteer from the charity put it: ‘The only crisis in the UK is the crisis of poor provision of public services. Refugee crisis is imposed by governments to suit a specific political agenda.’ Such homogenising practices seek to cast those fleeing war as dangerous and undeserving.

The notion of ‘crisis’ has dominated the contemporary era. The ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ conference showcased the ways in which cultural forms can shape meaning and offer a lens through which understandings of the contemporary moment can be rationalised, comprehended, and processed. Such cultural forms allow us to wrestle with traumatic events and enable critical approaches that offer potential solutions to – or at least understandings of – the crises with which we are faced. Home, belonging, and the safety concomitant with these concepts is crucial subject matter to understand the challenges the human race must deal with in this cultural moment, and the conference offered a space in which to discuss these events openly.


The ‘Krísis’ exhibition is at Bonington Gallery at NTU until 9 December 2016.


Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998)

BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m, says UN’, BBC News (2016)            <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-36573082 > [accessed 1st November 2016]

Bonington Gallery, ‘Krísis’ (2016) < http://www.boningtongallery.co.uk/exhibitions/krisis >            [accessed 31st October 2016]

Smith, Ali, Hotel World (London: Penguin, 2002)

Something Human, ‘About’ < https://something-human.org/about/ > [accessed 31st October            2016]


Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall are AHRC Midlands3Cities funded PhD students in English at Nottingham Trent University


[1] Something Human is an independent art curator which focuses on ‘exploring movement and relationships across boundaries, through […] shared multidisciplinary interests in architecture, design, sculpture, mixed media, photography, moving image and performance’. Something Human, ‘About’ < https://something-human.org/about/ > [accessed 31st October 2016] (para. 1 of 1).

[2] Bonington Gallery, ‘Krísis’ (2016) < http://www.boningtongallery.co.uk/exhibitions/krisis > [accessed 31st October 2016] (para. 3 of 7).

[3] BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m, says UN’, BBC News (2016) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-36573082 > [accessed 1st November 2016] (caption under video).

[4] BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level’, para. 7 of 18.

[5] Docus pays an assassin to kill her.

[6] Ali Smith, Hotel World (London: Penguin, 2002), p.67.

[7] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).