Deniz Gundogan Ibrisim, Sabancı University, The Poetics and Politics of Memory-making and Cosmological Storytelling in Aminatta Forna and Phatsimo Sunstrum
Deniz Gundogan Ibrisim received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She specializes in literary trauma and memory studies, postcolonial studies, ecofeminism, posthumanism, environmental humanities, Middle East, and African studies. Gundogan Ibrisim has been awarded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship within the EU Horizon 2020 research program and is currently working as a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Gender and Women's Studies Center of Excellence (SU Gender) at Sabancı University, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences.
In this paper I take Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s scholarship on African animist cosmologies as my departure point for interpreting women mobilizing Anglophone African memory. Soyinka’s scholarship underscores the way animist cosmologies expand personhood beyond the individual, the rational and the bounded human subject. At the same time, it productively offers an alternative look into Cartesian dualism with a cosmologically informed (trans)subject and animist personhood. In another words, for Soyinka, animist personhood assumes a cyclic temporal structure, which is ritually sustained by the vibrant interconnections between the past, present, and future as well as by the entangled worlds of the dead, the living, and the unborn. I utilize this cosmic-temporal continuum to analyze how women in contemporary art and literature imagine traumatic memory beyond the pathological closures. To that end, I analyze the Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer Aminata Forna’s novel Ancestor Stones along with the South African artist and designer Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s works to foster a comparative dialogue on the creation of alternative histories that can reconfigure painful pasts and presents. Giving voice to silenced memories and reclaiming collective memories that have been misrepresented in official narratives, both Forna and Phatsimo Sunstrum question the poetics and politics of memory-making in relation to experiences of vulnerability and violence.
Set in a fictional west African location most resembling Sierra Leone, Ancestor Stones is made up of multilayered stories narrated through the voices of four women in the Kholifa family: Asana, Mariama, Hawa, and Serah, and so begins the gathering of the family and the country’s turbulent and traumatic history- from colonialism to independence and the horrors of The Sierra Leone Civil War (1991–2002). Violence, loss, and trauma are common threads running through the novel and all the women are subject to the hierarchies of the polygamous family structure, which, to be sure, works for against them, and destroy their lives in many ways in the face of the political violence. And yet, women characters work through their loss and trauma from a local, spiritual and what I call cosmological storytelling. The characters, I argue, develop their unique memory practices and storytelling through cosmological and animist perspective. In Phatsimo Sunstrum’s paintings, one could see rough multilayered representations that merge vibrant female figures with fantastical and animist landscapes, forging more complex and nuanced portrayals of black women. This paper argues that both Forna’s and Phatsimo Sunstrum’s creative engagement foregrounds “cosmological storytelling,” which is indeed a conscious strategy for women in mobilizing memories of violence in postcolonial contexts. In this way, both women resist the erasure of past violence from current memory and engender new visions for future generations.
Emma Parker, Keele University, Collages, Photographs and Colonialism in Contemporary Life Writing
Emma Parker is a lecturer in postcolonial literature at Keele University. Between 2020-2022 she is also a researcher at the Oxford Centre for Life Writing. She has previously published articles on autobiography, colonialism, and graphic narratives in Critical Quarterly, Life Writing, Auto/Biography Studies, and Wasafiri. Her co-edited collection British Culture After Empire is due to be published by Manchester University Press in 2022.
In her 2019 memoir Imperial Intimacies, Hazel V. Carby recounts being a Black British child who dreaded ‘The Question’: ‘‘Where are you from… but where did you come from before that?’ Explanations that she was born in England to a Jamaican father and a Welsh mother prompted her interrogators, from classmates to teachers, to reply that the young Carby was a liar. Such acts of refusal deliberately dismissed her claims to belonging in the post-imperial nation. As the historian David Olusoga writes in his own autobiographical reflections, growing up in a post-war era at the end of empire, meant that for Black and mixed race children ‘while it was possible to be in Britain, it was much harder to be of Britain’ (2016, xvii). As this paper notes, a recent proliferation of Jamaican-British life writing – including Stuart Hall’s Familiar Stranger (2017) and numerous works by Colin Grant – reveal that Carby’s memoir is both situated within a wider body of contemporary life writing, and expands the established forms and thematic interests of this sub-genre.
In this paper I explore how Carby’s explorations of her family’s past in Imperial Intimacies critically interrogates the entangled histories of migration and the collapse of empire in the UK. I suggest that, by developing a formally complex auto/biographical narrative that borrows techniques of the visual collage, Carby knits together a multi-modal auto/biographical form. In so doing she combines colonial history, personal narrative and biographical reconstruction. In so doing she calls into question the national, boundaried story of Britain as a singular or exemplary island nation (a myth that has further calcified in the aftermath of Brexit). By drawing on theories of photography and autobiography advanced by Annette Kuhn, I trace how the combinations of text and image in Imperial Intimacies map a constellation of transnational lives, interrogate the possibilities of national belonging, and advance the generic boundaries of the family memoir.
Jenni Ramone, Nottingham Trent University, Looking Back to Move Forwards: Memories of Books and Reading in Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day (1980) and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (2016)
Jenni Ramone is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Global Literatures and a director of the Postcolonial Studies Centre at NTU. Her recent publications include Postcolonial Literatures in the Local Literary Marketplace: Located Reading, The Bloomsbury Introduction to Postcolonial Writing, Postcolonial Theories, and Salman Rushdie and Translation. She is currently undertaking new projects on Global Literature and Gender, and on literature and maternity. She is an Associate Editor for JPW and Treasurer of the PSA.
This paper considers how narrative methods adopted in two contemporary texts enable women’s postcolonial retelling of history, while they stage women who forego or reject conventional maternal roles. Both texts involve representations of literary texts and reading, and memories of reading. Zadie Smith in Swing Time (2016) employs the Black Consciousness principle of Sankofa, looking backwards to move forwards, to consider the contemporary impact of the Black Atlantic, particularly through transnational adoption. In Clear Light of Day (1980), Anita Desai represents methods to move through the trauma of Indian Partition via memories of reading.
Amanda Tavares, University of Sheffield, Passeuses de mémoire: fluid and fragmented
memories in Zineb Sedira’s Transmettre en Abyme
Amanda Tavares is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Her thesis explores visualisations of the Mediterranean as a geographical, conceptual and poetic space in the work of seven contemporary women artists. She is particularly interested in how installation artworks can renegotiate historical visual tropes and create spaces for reflection and engagement.
This paper proposes an in-depth analysis of Transmettre en Abyme (2012), a three-screen video installation by contemporary artist Zineb Sedira. Focused on conversations between the artist and gallery director Hélène Detaille, this artwork explores acts of curation, organisation and preservation of photographic archival images, mainly those of boats and ships in the port of Marseille taken and bought by a mysterious male photographer between 1935 and 1985.
Articulating the idea of women as passeuses de mémoire and the artwork’s title neologism of mise en abyme, this paper will analyse the artist’s and the gallery director’s role in creating, maintaining and disseminating the memories intertwined with this photographic archive. It will explore the conceptual gaps and material challenges faced by Hélène, in particular around the space, time, knowledge and care needed to make sense of the photographs, in order to point out the archive’s fragilities and its impacts on the (re)construction of memories of the port of Marseille. This paper will also examine how Sedira’s filmic practice creates a new archival form of the archive itself, allowing her to link apparently disjointed testimonies and historical episodes and mobilise strong colonial tropes such as the ship and the abyss. By making audiences consider copies and fragments of images as essential, constitutive parts of the process of writing histories, Sedira opens a space where historical narratives can be constantly revisited, represented and reimagined and where memory is conceptualised as always in flux.
Alan Rice (University of Central Lancashire, Preston), Jade Montserrat: Muscle Memory: Visualising Black Presence in North British Rural Spaces
This paper explores the multivarious works of the emerging Black British artist Jade Montserrat across video art, watercolours and performance art. It especially engages with the way her work responds to the specific landscape of North Yorkshire and with the historical presence of black people in rural and Northern spaces. It will delve into theoretical work by Edouard Glissant, Stuart Hall, Michael Rothberg, Hanna Arendt, Paul Ricœur and Ian Baucom and the lessons of a previous generation of black women artists to assess its complex and multidirectional interventions and meanings.
Alan Rice is Professor in English and American Studies at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, co-director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR) and director of the UCLan Lancashire Research Centre in Migration, Diaspora and Exile (MIDEX). He has worked on the interdisciplinary study of the Black Atlantic publishing Radical Narratives of the Black Atlantic (2003) & Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic (2010). He was a founder member of the Slave Trade Arts Memorial Project in Lancaster which was responsible for unveiling a memorial commemorating victims of the slave trade in 2005, co-curated Trade and Empire: Remembering Slavery at the Whitworth Gallery Manchester in 2007 and has been consultant and talking head on a variety of documentaries with the BBC and other broadcasters. He has given keynote presentations in Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, the United States, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and France His articles have appeared in a wide range of journals including, Slavery and Abolition, Atlantic Studies, Patterns of Prejudice, Journal of American Studies Zeitschrift fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik and Research in African Literatures. His latest co-written work, Inside the Invisible: Memorialising Slavery and Freedom in the Life and Works of Lubaina Himid (2019) is the first academic monograph on the 2017 Turner Prize Winner. In 2021 he is curating the exhibition ‘Lubaina Himid: Memorial to Zong’ for the Lancaster Maritime Museum and working on projects with Preston Black History Group, Sewing Café, Lancaster and Lancaster Jazz Festival.
Antonia Wimbush, University of Liverpool, French Caribbean Writing: A Creole Feminine Identity
Antonia Wimbush joined the department in October 2020 to take up a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, under the mentorship of Prof. Charles Forsdick. Her project is entitled ‘Representing the BUMIDOM: French Caribbean Migration in Literature and Culture’. She completed her PhD at the University of Birmingham in February 2018. Her thesis examined themes of exile and migration in life writing written by women writers from across the Francophone postcolonial world and was fully funded by the Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership. Her first monograph, Autofiction: A Francophone Aesthetic of Exile, was published by Liverpool University Press (2021). In addition to her research expertise in exile and migration, she is interested in questions of gender, sexuality, and bodily experiences. She co-edited a special issue of L’Esprit Créateur with Dr Polly Galis and Dr Maria Tomlinson, entitled ‘Challenging Normative Spaces and Gazes: Imagining the Body in the Francophone World’. This special issue, which was published in June 2020. They are also publishing Queer(ying) Bodily Norms in Francophone Culture with Peter Lang in 2021, an edited volume which investigates questions of gender and sexuality in Francophone contexts. Recent publications include an article for Journal of Romance Studies on literary representations of World War Two in Caribbean women’s writing and a book chapter which offers an ecocritical account of Véronique Tadjo’s latest novel, published in Transgression(s) in Twenty-First-Century Women’s Writing in French (2020). From 2016 to 2019 she was the Conference Secretary for the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies. She is currently co-editing a special issue of Francosphères entitled ‘Postcolonial Realms of Memory in the Francophone World’.
This paper explores the complex dynamics of Creole language and culture in the French Caribbean, and interrogates how gender issues come to bear on language and identity in the region. Since the publication of the literary manifesto Éloge de la Créolité by Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant in 1989, there has been a concerted effort in Guadeloupe and Martinique to celebrate Creole identity through language, literature, music, gastronomy, and visual culture. However, the Créolité movement has also been criticized by Caribbean scholars, writers, and thinkers for its nostalgic remembering of the past and for its silence on the question of gender. Examining this gendered blind spot further, this paper argues that women writers such as Suzanne Dracius (Martinique), Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe), and Gisèle Pineau (Guadeloupe) create their own form of Creoleness through their hybrid writing which is more inclusive of female experiences of Creole identity.