Join our Nottingham Contemporary friends and colleagues for a series of events on translation in February, and for a book launch in January:
Join our Nottingham Contemporary friends and colleagues for a series of events on translation in February, and for a book launch in January:
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.
Dr Anastasia Valassopoulos
‘Palestine in the Popular Imagination: From Refugees to Negotiators’
22 March 2017
by Georgia Stabler
As part of the School of Arts and Humanities English Research Seminar Series Nottingham Trent University welcomed Dr Anastasia Valassopulos, a lecturer in post 1945 world literature at the University of Manchester. Anastasia’s area of research includes postcolonial literature and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. She is also particularly interested in the wider cultural production and reception of Arab women’s film and music. She has worked and published on the revolutionary cinema of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and on the role of Egyptian popular culture in revolutionary contexts. Anastasia’s talk was a highly anticipated event for NTU’s School of Arts and Humanities, not only because of her many notable publications including her first monograph Contemporary Arab Women Writers, but also because she was the PhD supervisor of several faculty members in our very own English department who specialise in postcolonial studies!
Anastasia Valassopoulos’s most recent long term research project maps a visual cultural history of Palestine. The project’s most recent working title is Palestine in the Popular Imagination and it centres on the exploration of materials that established and instituted ways in which Palestine’s continuous presence in the visual imaginary was coordinated. Principally, it aims to investigate how Palestine is perceived, discussed, and consumed in the broader popular imagination.
The project has been organised into four major conceptual eras:
Palestine as the Holy Land (1918-1948)
The Palestinian Refugee (1947-1960s)
Icons of Activism (1960s-1970s)
Cultures of Negotiation (1978-9 & 1993-5)
Within these sections that Anastasia outlined in her talk, she explores a wide range of materials including examples of global and international photojournalism, poster art, film, documentary, cartography, photography, and creative outputs produced by humanitarian organizations which have all contributed in creating the lasting images associated with Palestine in the twentieth century. Guiding the investigation of these materials are the socio-cultural moments (listed above) that have framed the presentation of these images. Organised in this way, Anastasia connects the emergence of creative, visual interpretations of Palestine with pertinent political contexts in order to explore the ways in which the Palestinian landscape has been configured within the public imagination. The project investigates Palestine as the Holy Land and the scene of biblical epics; scriptural archaeology at work; information and ‘aid’ films in the run up to partition and the construction of the refugee; the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); activist cinema and the films of the PLO; cultural representation of international terrorism and finally the visual cultures of ‘negotiation’ and the peace accords. The materials that Anastasia drew attention to in her talk have all played a significant part in the cementing of various iconic visual moments, from poster art through to biblical epics inaugurated in early cinema. They present Palestine as a location of historical and geographical significance, the combination of these artistic and archaeological materials have produced a memorable though highly stylised vision of Palestine as a category primed to accommodate disparate global socio-political needs.
I was particularly struck by Anastasia’s engagement with the idea of scriptural geography and how the landscape of Palestine as the holy land is largely understood and depicted in early Western cinema through biblical images. The talk included film clips of the 1947 documentary Portrait of Palestine which makes the connection between communities of Arab peasants and the bible, likening the fishing nets used by the peasants to the ones Jesus’s disciples fished with, for example. In another clip, taken from the 1960 Hollywood film Exodus Ari Ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman) asks Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint) if she ‘knew her bible’ whilst the pair sit on a Palestinian hillside. He then goes on to point out different areas in view, referencing locations and describing their significance in biblical stories and imagery, thus profiling the area as site of religious and historical importance. The clip provided one example of how Palestine is perceived in the cultural imaginary as the ‘Holy land’, and how external representations of the landscape rely on scriptural geography which is then mapped onto actual locations and living communities. For me, the talk and the materials Anastasia discussed highlighted how Palestine is treated by adherents of Abrahamic religions as a physical manifestation of their faith and made me consider the Arab-Israeli conflict from a different perspective. It also raised some interesting and complex questions concerning concepts of ownership, sovereignty and reflected upon broader issues of colonial enterprise.
Anastasia’s project brings together for the first time a set of symbolic and iconic images and themes that have dominated the visualisation of Palestine internationally in the twentieth century, and also explores their associated values that characterize the sustained and uninterrupted centrality of Palestine in the popular imagination.
Response to: Maxim Bolt, ‘Mediated Paternalism and Violent Incorporation: Enforcing Farm Hierarchies on the Zimbabwean-South African Border’
by Fran Hajat
23 May 2016
Dr. Maxim Bolt spent eight months residing on one of the citrus farms that line the Zimbabwean/South African border. This is an area where people struggle to make a living or even survive – a situation that is based on large scale migration, transience and mass unemployment. Migrants crossing the Limpopo endure gangs who will rob, rape, or traffic, and steal from them. Either that or suffer at the hands of border soldiers and police whose offers of protection are often overshot with violence. Border police are known to demand sexual favours from apprehended women if they want to be released from custody. If and when these migrants are able to find employment they strive to obtain a sense of permanence as farm labourers in a place where everyday violence is still very much a factor albeit hidden from the outside world.
In a post-apartheid society the all-white farm owners and management would like the rest of the world to believe that paternalism has been swapped for a corporate-management style. The reality is these farms are governed by a hegemonic mix of paternalism and violence where white authority is never questioned. Top of the management chain are white superordinate patriarchs who delegate responsibility through black subordinate patriarchs. The racialized paternalism associated with pre-apartheid farm owners meant the owners had veritable carte blanch within their ‘little republics,’ and was often harsh and coercive environments. Today the border farmers try to expunge their vilified history by distancing themselves from their workers. Instead farm owners rely on senior black male workers or elders to govern and handle disputes amongst workers. These elders hold courts, can invoke vigilante justice and call on the coercive power of state employed border guards mete out justice to their subordinates and dependants. Although seemingly removed from the day to day dealings of the labour force, white farmers use senior black workers to enforce farm hierarchies and as such both condone the use of violence and profit from it. Senior workers have no choice but to use vigilante justice if they are to keep their job and maintain their lifestyles. These farm hierarchies are ordered along racial lines: White managers rarely enter the compound and have access to the tea room and the farmhouse – areas that are off limits to black workers. Black managers are subordinate to their white counterparts. Farm workers sign for their payslips with fingerprints, regardless of their educational level.
The citrus farmers’ attempt to disassociate themselves from their past and adopt a new corporate style of farm management is in part driven by global markets. Buyers on the international market include British supermarkets who are more aware of workers’ rights and advocate Black Economic Empowerment. By adopting a more corporate look and feel, owners seek to integrate themselves into the Global market and make themselves more attractive to buyers and consumers.
‘If One Finger Brought Oil’ – A Book Report on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
by George Coleby
4 May 2016
George Coleby is a second year on NTU’s BA International Relations and is a student intern at the Postcolonial Studies Centre in Spring 2016.
Possibly the most iconic work of Postcolonial literature, Things Fall Apart by Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe is a story of one man’s experience with a changing world. Published in 1958 during a tumultuous period of decolonisation in the continent, the parallels between the protagonist’s experiences and Achebe’s own, are evident throughout the novel. Set in the late 19th century on the cusp of the ‘Scramble for Africa’, the small tribe of Umuofia in Igboland (what is now Nigeria), live by the ancient traditions and cultural customs that have developed and been passed down through generations for centuries. The novel is centred around the life of Okonkwo, a violent and fiercely proud man who is known across Igboland for his feats of strength and physical prowess after throwing legendary wrestler ‘The Cat’ in a historic bout. Throughout the novel Okonkwo fervently clings to the belief that a man is the direct measure of his successes and it is his duty to overcome the weaknesses of placidity and idleness.
Achebe introduces the story with an account of Okonkwo’s fabled victory over undefeated wrestler, The Cat, in which 10,000 spectators celebrate the triumph, likening it to the mythological origin of their town in which the founder ‘engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights’ – forever binding Okonkwo to the traditional identity of the Igbo people. The fight was also memorialised for Okonkwo as the struggle that freed him from a life of poverty and transformed into a titled man of land and reverence. This concept of struggle and competition in Igbo society as the only vehicle for great achievement and success becomes the first defining aspect of Okonkwo’s character, and a catalyst for his ultimate fate later in the novel. This understanding of the relationship between suffering and reward in Igbo society, echoes the sentiment in colonial Nigeria during Achebe’s initial creative years, in that only through the struggle of decolonisation can Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, achieve true, tangible success in the global village.
Much of Okonkwo’s character is a result of his relationship with his father, Unoka who, contrary to his son was a gentle, peace loving man who embraced a life of hedonism and personal satisfaction. Throughout his life, Unoka had accrued large debts as a result of his love for palm wine and music and a general disdain for toil and hard work. Okonkwo loathed his father’s inactivity and the memory of his death as a penniless and disreputable man haunted him. This fear is another central instigator of Okonkwo’s ruthlessly driven nature, as Achebe writes ‘His whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness’. For Okonkwo this fear was ‘deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw’. A particularly pertinent line in the novel is the phrase ‘red in tooth and claw’ taken from the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem ‘In Memoriam A.H.H’ – showing Achebe’s awareness of both African and European literary styles and acknowledging the intervention colonial-era Europe has had on modern African identity.
Okonkwo’s aggressive and obstinate nature eventually leads to his exile as he commits three transgressions against Igbo traditions. Firstly, he savagely beats his wife during the Week of Peace, in which all violence is prohibited, and even tries to shoot her, shattering the principles of the cultural festival. Secondly, Okonkwo is directed by the village elders to sacrifice the young boy who had been placed in his care after a peace accord with a neighbouring village, a boy who had grown to call him father. Despite being advised not to take part in the ritual, Okonkwo ultimately does the killing himself because ‘he was afraid of being thought weak’. In an act of cruel irony, it is the accidental murder of a man at a funeral when Okonkwo’s gun explodes, that leads to his eventual exile from the village. It is during his exile that Okonkwo’s last friend questions the morals behind so harsh a punishment for an accidental transgression to which Achebe writes ‘If one finger brought oil, it soiled the others’, a proverb that summarises the communal nature of Igbo tradition and its attitudes towards those who break it. Okonkwo had infringed upon tradition and so he must be exiled or else the entire tribe would suffer for his indiscretion. It is this desire or perhaps fear to keep the community strong and untainted at any cost, that eventually lead the people of Umuofia to reject Okonkwo and with him, the essence of their ancient traditions.
Achebe then introduces the key driver of the novel’s theme of change, as Christian missionaries from the British Empire arrive in Igboland and begin rapidly reshaping its society. Okonkwo’s first encounter with the missionaries occurs whilst he is still in exile in which his first born son, Nwoye, who never subscribed to his father’s rigid view of masculinity, becomes influenced by the western teachings, to which his father responds typically with violence, thereby inadvertently driving Nwoye to convert to Christianity under the name of Isaac. Once Okonkwo returns from exile to find that a missionary church has been constructed in Umuofia and many of the tribespeople had been converted as well, he once again urges violence and resistance against these new changes. As events continue, a boiling point is eventually reached when Okonkwo beheads a western messenger to galvanize the community and repel the foreign invaders, but he is denied by his townsfolk and he realises his cause is lost. When British authorities arrive the next day to arrest him they find that he has hung himself, a potent taboo in Igbo culture that renders the body evil and means that it cannot be touched or buried with his clansmen. In the end, it is the British men who bury Okonkwo, the man who so embodied yet also denigrated the identity of the Igbo people.
Achebe finally closes the book by revealing the British Commissioner’s thoughts on what he has witnessed, including the man who had killed a messenger and then hung himself, to which he concludes that the story would warrant ‘perhaps not a chapter but a reasonable paragraph’. A damning and insignificant culmination for the textured character that the reader follows throughout the novel. In these final moments of the book Achebe displays the intrinsic dehumanisation that shadowed colonisation into Africa and indeed the rest of the world and the flawed perception that occurs when the privileged view ‘the other’. As a novel, Things Fall Apart has rightly been embraced for its retelling of the disastrous colonisation of the African continent and its failure to see human beings as human beings. But of course for the reader, Okonkwo and his story is not just a paragraph but a lesson to help us see the other with more compassion and complexity, it helps us to view each other without distorted perspective and to question those traditional institutions and cultural norms that can define a society. As Achebe writes in one of his later novels ‘Igbo people say, if you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place’.
Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’, 16 March 2016
by George Coleby
4 May 2016
George Coleby is a second year on NTU’s BA International Relations and is a student intern at the Postcolonial Studies Centre in Spring 2016.
Political Art in Palestine
Dr Simon Faulkner, senior lecturer in Art History at the Manchester School of Art, visited NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre and gave an enlightening lecture on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict through the lens of visual art and photography. In both the contemporary and ancient worlds, The Levant has been the host of intense factional fighting as well as deep divisions along religious, cultural and ethnic lines. Today, the regional dispute is still ongoing as the modern states of Israel and Palestine repeatedly clash, both socially and violently, making headlines and front page images the world over. This cultural collision has created resounding ripples in the fields of art and photography that exist within the troubled region, shaping the experiences of the people who live inside it.
Tel Aviv based artist David Reeb has witnessed this struggle first hand and reflects his experiences in his work. His 1997 painting ‘All the Colours of the Rainbow’ features an image of Israeli tanks patrolling the West Bank city of Ramallah, above a second image of British sculptor, Henry Moore’s, three piece sculpture outside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, highlighting the contrast between the region’s instability and its lesser recognised high culture. The two scenes are separated by a straight black line invoking a stark commentary on the strict political divisions of the historic land and the typical experiences of Israelis and Palestinians living on either side of the area’s physical as well as more intangible divides. Dr Faulkner commented on how Reeb has rejected the term ‘political artist’ stating that his paintings are not constructed as clear-cut political statements but rather as a more complex representation of his own experiences, thereby challenging the idea that the connection between politics and art is a straightforward relationship.
Many artists and culture-makers have labelled these works of art as a form of activism and protest against the region’s struggles, in an attempt to bring to light the themes of occupation, displacement and segregation. Palestinian artist, Khaled Hourani, embodied these ideals in his project ‘Picasso in Palestine’ in which he successfully established the loan of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Buste de Femme’ from Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands to the then widely unknown International Academy of Art-Palestine in Ramallah, in Israeli occupied West Bank. Loaning a piece as significant as an original Picasso is usually only reserved for the world’s highest profile museums and galleries, so to bring it to occupied Palestine has been called a supreme act of protest and legitimacy for the unrecognised state.
The international collective, ActiveStills, is a community of photographers and documenters based in Israel and Palestine, who use their talents as a vehicle to promote social and political change in the region. ActiveStills have archived many images and accounts of protest, demonstration and violence between Palestinian activists and Israeli authorities in cities such as Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Bil’in. One such account from the outskirts of Bethlehem detailed the passage of hundreds of Palestinian workers through a checkpoint in the wall that separates them from Jerusalem. These restrictions to non-Israeli communities have generated protests in West Bank border towns, most notably in Bil’in where the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) was regularly deployed to quell demonstrations that had escalated into violence. Dr Faulkner spoke of how the images taken by ActiveStills were being used by protestors on both sides of the conflict in an effort to achieve social justice.
As it is, it seems the historic region’s troubles show no signs of abating, however due to the efforts of these few artists and gallerists the social consequences and the individual experiences of the people directly affected by it, will be preserved. The authenticity of the conflict as it will inevitably be portrayed by international media outlets and social networks, will be protected from alterations for political agendas or factional propaganda, by these true to life images and works. Dr Faulkner illustrated how the relationship between art and politics is two sided, as it is the international crisis that largely inspired the aforementioned artists and their pieces but also as the art and high culture can be used as a vessel for social justice in the region’s turbulent political battleground.
Response to Alberto Carbajal, Between Gang and Family: Queering Ethnicity and British Muslim Masculinities in Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil
by Wendy Norman
April 27 2016
Recently, Dr Alberto Carbajal presented his paper, ‘Between Gang and Family: Queering Ethnicity and British Muslim Masculinities in Sally el Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil’ at NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre. Carbajal demonstrated how Hosaini’s film challenges typical perceptions of homosexuality and masculinity, as well as ethnicity. The narrative of My Brother the Devil (2012) follows Mo and Rashin, brothers of Egyptian heritage living in Hackney. Rashin leaves his gang and stops selling low-level drunks in order to have a relationship with Sayyid, a French photographer. Jealous of Rashin and Sayyid’s friendship, Mo joins Rashin’s gang as a dealer. Growing ever more suspicious of Rashin and Sayyid’s closeness, Mo goes to Sayyid’s home to see the two men undressed together and realises the true extent of their relationship. Mo continues to become more involved in the gang and upon Rashin finding Mo’s stash of money and drugs, makes a deal with his former gang, agreeing that Mo can leave the gang in exchange of killing a member of a rival gang. The gang discovers Rashin and Sayyid’s homosexual relationship and plans to kill them. In the cross-fire, Mo is shot while protecting his brother.
Although he primarily queered ethnicity and masculinity, I found Carbajal’s demonstration of how My Brother the Devil queers the notion of ‘home’ and ‘family’ an especially interesting concept. Even though the members of the gang are from different ethnicities, they call each other ‘bruv’, ‘cuz’ and ‘fam’, short for brother, cousin, and family. The gang’s notion of ‘family’ seems to transcend biology and ethnicity, showing that these men can choose their family. This, in turn, queers the very notion of ‘family’, a group of people who typically live together, and are bonded through biology or marriage. Moreover, Carbajal queers ethnicity further because London in My Brother the Devil does not belong to one ethnicity. Instead, London belongs to a large group of people from disparate places and ethnicities to the point where ethnicity becomes meaningless. Therefore, we can see that the presentation of London in the film is a site of queering ethnicity and this queering gives a sense of rootedness to all ethnicities.
It is refreshing to see a sympathetic view of young people, especially those like Mo and Rashin, who are on the margins of society. El Hosaini effectively presents this sympathy in her film and Carbajal encapsulated the nuances of My Brother the Devil in his full and enthusiastic analysis. The discussion ultimately brought a refreshing portrayal of young Muslim men into focus by presenting them positively.
Wendy Norman is currently undertaking research on sexuality in Sri Lankan literature, on NTU’s MRes English Literary Research.
Response to ‘Of Warriors and Soldiers: Explorations of the ‘Noble Warrior’ in Contemporary New Zealand Literature and Culture’ (Ulla Ratheiser, University of Innsbruck)
by Sofia Aatkar
26 April 2016
This week, Nottingham Trent hosted Dr Ulla Ratheiser from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. As part of the Postcolonial Speaker Series, Ratheiser delivered a fascinating talk on the trope of the noble warrior in New Zealand literature. Contrary to popular belief, the recurrent figure of the noble warrior is not exclusive to Māori culture, but is also used by the Pākeha community to represent a collective Aotearoa identity. The strength of this shared identity and cultural pride is seen, most publically perhaps, before sporting events when the Haka is performed. Ratheiser informed us that the Haka is a traditional action poem which the Māori execute before battle, but, in contemporary Aotearoa culture, the Haka is also used to represent what it means to be a New Zealander. In this sense, then, when the New Zealand rugby team perform the Haka on the world stage, they combine Māori warriorhood and indigenous minority strength with an expression of national identity in a physical, visible and audible way, which publically conveys New Zealand’s unity. Thus, the image of the noble warrior works to transcend New Zealand’s precolonial, colonial and postcolonial histories.
Certainly, in many ways the figure of the noble warrior can be understood as a unifying and productive emblem in New Zealand culture, because it works to promote a pan-Aotearoan identity. However, Ratheiser employed a critical approach which illustrated some of the complications linked to the seemingly positive image of the noble warrior. She examined the representation of this symbolic figure in four texts, namely Once Were Warriors (1990) by Alan Duff, Tu: A Novel (2004) by Patricia Grace, and Witi Ihimaera’s novels The Uncle’s Story (2002) and The Whale Rider (2003). I found Ratheiser’s analysis of The Whale Rider and Tu: A Novel particularly compelling, as she demonstrated how the ideal of the noble warrior is constricting for texts’ protagonists. Indeed, for The Whale Rider’s female protagonist, Kahu, the idea of the noble warrior is initially depicted as unattainable because she is discouraged from learning traditional Māori combat due to her biological sex, and for the same reason, is almost denied her rightful title of chief. By contrast, for Tu, the image of the returning war hero represents the modern equivalent of the noble warrior; however, he returns from World War II wounded, not glorious, and consequently sees himself as a failure. By interrogating the protagonists’ subject positions, Ratheiser revealed how the image of the noble warrior can also represent a hyper-masculine, empty construct which undermines its otherwise unifying agency, and emphasises the need to understand the noble warrior concept in a wider, less literal context.
In addition to her fascinating insights on the figure of the noble warrior in New Zealand literature, for me, Ratheiser’s talk highlighted the extent to which postcolonial studies marginalises the literature of settler colonies, such as Australia and New Zealand, and how their individual postcolonial contexts are often overshadowed in postcolonial studies.
 This is a Māori term which is used to characterise New Zealanders of European descent.
 A Māori term which is commonly used to describe the country of New Zealand in its entirety.
Sofia Aatkar is undertaking research on liminality in the postcolonial bildungsroman and will begin her Midlands 3 Cities AHRC-funded PhD on post-1945 travel writing of Caribbean to UK migration in October 2016.
Representations of Postcolonial Identity and Universal Issues in Perivi Katjavivi’s ‘The Unseen’
Response to filmmaker Perivi Kajavivi’s visit and post-production film screening at NTU, 11 November 2015
by Beth Evans, BA English, 14 January 2016
Representations of Postcolonial Identity and Universal Issues in Perivi Katjavivi’s ‘The Unseen’.
As one of the lucky few able to view of a number of scenes and speak with Perivi Katjavivi about his upcoming film, ‘The Unseen’, scheduled to premiere in February 2016 at the Pan African Film Festival, I am excited to watch the film in its entirety as soon as it is available. ‘The Unseen’, which Katjavivi suggests should be understood as a ‘blending of fiction and documentary’, explores the liminal spaces of present day Namibia and follows three seemingly dissimilar characters as they experience the authentic and lesser-seen realities of the country.
With little else in common, the characters Marcus, an African-American aspiring actor, Sara, a traveller who is contemplating committing suicide, and Anu, a musician caught between Namibian traditions and Western rap, all experience a state of what Katjavivi refers to as ‘internal flux’. ‘The Unseen’ follows its protagonists through their processes of self-identification as they face frustration and anxiety at the feeling of existing in two places at once. Katjavivi suggests that the characters do represent a ‘postcolonial identity’, which he clarifies by referring to Homi Bhabha’s concept of ‘ambivalence’ or the dual identity of the colonised other, though he is hesitant to accept the suggestion that his film is purely representative of Namibia’s postcolonial experience. Instead, Katjavivi suggests that ‘The Unseen’ should be understood as an ‘honest film’ about individual experiences which tie together to display universal issues.
This idea is gloriously evident in the enticing opening scene, in which we are almost painfully slowly drawn into the world of the film and its characters. The introductory shot presents us with an eerily empty and peaceful road, interjected with shadows. The setting is unknown and the shadows mask the characters’ identities. By concealing this information, the film immediately achieves a sense of universality through its refusal to offer any answers to the questions of where we are and who were are watching. The slow pace of the opening and its lack of dialogue are deeply enticing, enhanced only by the eventual close-ups of the characters’ faces which draw us into their very personal lives. Besides leaving me desperately wanting to watch more, it seems apparent from this opening that Katjavivi is keen to establish his film as one which concerns the individual experiences of life in Namibia.
Western audiences, Katjavivi explains, do not often allow themselves to think of Africa in terms of economy, relationships, and career and generally fixate on trying to find representations of colonialism and postcolonialism within African art. This discussion leads Katjavivi to express concern over the extent to which film should engage with social and political issues. The filmmaker recognises that colonialism is a part of Africa’s past and present and should therefore be addressed through film and other arts, but he does not believe it should be at the forefront of all African art. Katjavivi defends his stance with the persuasive argument that ‘a German filmmaker is just a filmmaker, no one else is burdened with this.’ However, Katjavivi eagerly offers areas in which his film does tackle the issue of postcolonial representation.
For example, Katjavivi explains that he wanted ‘The Unseen’ to be an authentic representation of Namibian life, rather than one shadowed by Western ideas of an underdeveloped Africa. The filmmaker achieves this through a number of techniques. The decision to film in black and white, for example, destabilises the stereotypical image of Africa as always brightly coloured and vibrant and offers an opposing image to consider. Katjavivi also filmed improvised scenes with real people, rather than actors, within the liminal spaces of Namibia, which creates a documentary-like feel for ‘The Unseen’ and presents its audiences with the realities of the country. Tackling universal issues within the context of Namibia through his film sounds like an exciting and emotional journey for Katjavivi, and I am thoroughly looking forward to watching the full film.
Beth Evans is a third year English undergraduate at NTU, undertaking a Dissertation on Black British writing and the UK publishing industry.
Response to research seminar by Dr Robbie Shilliam, QMUL, ‘Africa in Oceania: Thinking Besides the Subaltern’
by Sofia Aatkar, MRes English Literary Research
8 December 2015
This fortnight’s postcolonial speaker was Dr. Robbie Shilliam from Queen Mary, University of London. He delivered a powerful seminar, which was described afterwards by a fellow student as ‘poetic’, regarding the reparation of colonial injustice through anti-colonial connectivity among colonised and formally colonised peoples in the context of the South Pacific and the African diaspora, and queried the usefulness of the subaltern figure in accomplishing this.
Dr. Shilliam suggested that retrieving networks between colonised and formally colonised peoples can be achieved by connecting to the places that were left untouched by Cook and Columbus; namely, the spiritual domain. Shilliam argues that, because colonisation did not (and never could) breech this spiritual domain, these hinterlands could be used as a ground for re-establishing connectivity, and subsequently can actively repair the wounds of colonialism, reconnect black individuals and decolonise lands, ancestors and agencies. Shilliam exemplified this phenomenon in his discussion of the Māori people in New Zealand. He stated that the conception of time in Māori culture differs from that of modern, linear time, in which a future-centric view is adopted and the past is forgotten. Instead, Māori people believe that the past is a source of knowledge which should be remembered and drawn upon, which is typified by the phrase ‘the ancestors are meeting because we have met’. In this light, it makes sense that the Māori word ‘muri’ connotes ‘future’ (verb) and ‘behind’ (location). And thus, one way in which Māori people could forge connections across the African diaspora and adopt a decolonising ethos is by looking to the future through their shared past.
The term ‘subaltern’ commonly refers to specific struggles in colonial India. However, it has been noted that:
subaltern is not just a category that affects given sectors of the population of one single nation-state, but a category of the imperial and modern/colonial world that affects people and regions in a global distribution of wealth and meaning.
Accordingly, ‘subaltern’ can also be used as an intellectual category to describe individuals or groups who exist outside the hegemonic framework of colonial power. Consequently, Shilliam suggests that in order for colonial and formally colonised peoples, or the subalterns, to connect through the spiritual domain, they need to cast ‘sideways glances’ instead of reflecting Western epistemology and thought production. In other words, they need to look backwards at their pre-colonial pasts in order to establish a decolonised future.
Personally, I found Dr. Shilliam’s seminar refreshing as he did not simply promote a specific collective national identity in an attempt at decolonisation, but instead suggests that a transnational identity is forged between colonised and formally colonised individuals through profound metaphysical connections, irrespective of an individual’s nationality. This view, in my opinion, promotes a more productive and empowering lens through which to examine postcolonial identities as such a global infrastructure invests a deeper connection among colonised and formally colonised peoples because it transcends geographical and historical boundaries.
Māori Dictionary, ‘Muri’, < http://maoridictionary.co.nz/word/4283 > [accessed 03.12.2015]
Mignolo, Walter D. ‘On Subalterns and Other Agencies’, Postcolonial Studies, 8.4 (2005), 381-407
Shilliam, Robbie, ‘Africa in Oceania: Thinking Besides the Subaltern’, < http://theoryculturesociety.org/article-robbie-shilliam-on-africa-in-oceania-thinking besides-the-subaltern/ > [accessed 03.12.2015]
 Robbie Shilliam, ‘Africa in Oceania: Thinking Besides the Subaltern’, < http://theoryculturesociety.org/article-robbie-shilliam-on-africa-in-oceania-thinking-besides-the-subaltern/ > [accessed 03.12.2015] (para. 1 of 14).
 Walter D. Mignolo, ‘On Subalterns and Other Agencies’, Postcolonial Studies, 8.4 (2005), 381-407 (p.386).
 Robbie Shilliam, ‘Africa in Oceania’ (para. 9 of 14).