A. R. Venkatachalapathy

Copyright, Public Domain and the Post-Colonial State

The Curious Case of ‘Nationalization’ of Copyright in Contemporary Tamilnadu

In March 1949, the then Government of Madras acquired the copyright – a process termed as ‘nationalization’ – in the works of the iconic Tamil poet Subramania Bharati, and put these works in the public domain. Responding to a public demand for the free and unrestricted use of an iconic writer’s works the newly independent government had come up with an unprecedented solution in the history of copyright. Unlike the colonial state which exercised its power by surveillance, censorship, proscription and expurgation the postcolonial state – through this move – enabled wider access to a body of texts. This story I have narrated in a previous study (Who Owns That Song? The Battle for Subramania Bharti’s Copyright, 2018).

This paper explores how this precedent has been used by successive governments in Tamilnadu since 1990 to free the works of more than a hundred writers from a legal copyright regime. It traces the compulsions behind such moves and their fallout for a postcolonial print culture. Some of the questions explored are: What underlies the demand for the continued ‘nationalization’ of literary works? Is the state seen (and acting) as a patron (by paying compensation in an admittedly narrow literary market)? Can the apparent altruism of the state have underlying political motives (for instance, when the state attempts to enforce its dictate on an unwilling copyright holder)? How does the world of letters see this intervention? How does the publishing industry respond to the release of valued literary copy? What are the implications of ‘nationalization’ for ‘moral rights’? Has this helped scholarship? How have courts viewed this question when copyright is challenged?

This paper is largely based on my lived experience as a member of the Tamil literary culture, and interviews with writers, scholars and publishers.

Maya Issam Kesrouany

Committed and Commissioned: Narratives of the Arab Cultured Citizen

How does image-making in Arab cultural production today extend the earlier debates on commitment? This paper revisits the 1950s Arab discourse on commitment or iltizām until recently in light of changing media: manifestos and images. It focuses on two key terms: commitment and enlightenment then and now. The initial debates of the 1950s addressed the “adequate” form of aesthetics by opposing socialist realism to abstract experimentalism in the literary and visual fields, although they did not produce a specific language on word and image. For example, the Egyptian Art and Freedom Group (1939 – 1946), self-declared revolutionary Marxists, adopted surrealism towards their own manifesto of abstraction against the materialists’ campaign for objective representation. Today the memory of the Art and Freedom group has returned for Syrian and Egyptian artists. Since the Arab “spring,” there has been a proliferation of literature that approaches contemporary Arab cultural production as “communicative” of the people’s or al-shaab’s experience. It focuses on the producers, exhibitors and state actors to argue for a new identity politics based on resistance to both authoritarianism and neoliberalism. This criticism treats cultural production as indicator of potential emancipatory resistance. However, this approach can be reductive in its contemporary focus on “new” public spheres of artistic participation without engaging how this sphere was imagined before. To focus these interactions, I explore the figure of the cultured citizen and the project of tathqīf [culturing or enlightenment] in socialist writings from 1913-1958. Before the properly postcolonial state post-1952, conceptions of aesthetic education played a role in disseminating a “general” culture acquired in the social and not institutional sphere. Gamal Abdel Nasser coopted all cultural production under state control, commissioning previously committed intellectuals to speak in the name of his state socialism. Nasser then bequeathed this project to the Syrian state when he formed the United Arab Republic (1958-1961) and it stayed with the Hafez al-Assad regime. I focus these terms through two case studies of contemporary visual media that carry the terms of the earlier debate between realism and experimentalism. In Syria, the discourse is called “tanwir” [enlightenment] and used mostly by TV producers. I explore how the changing media, from the journal to the painting to the moving image, have negotiated what miriam cooke calls a “commissioned criticism” (2007). Other than the obvious generational references, contemporary artists formulate aesthetic manifestos that address local and international audiences. In consciously creating new publics, they also transcend the artist-spectator dyad towards different networks of dissemination and engagement. How does our discourse on commitment change as a result? Through a collection of examples and analysis, this paper considers the relationship between iltizām and tathqīf through the desire to communicate a universal that transcends belonging to the first world to a transgressive aesthetic education.

James Procter

The Radiophonic Voice: West African and West Indian Writers at the BBC

Broadcasting created unprecedented opportunities for audition at the mid-century, vastly multiplying the array of speaking positions, the registers, and idioms available to African and Caribbean artists. As black Atlantic writers seized the new opportunities presented by the seemingly boundless medium of radio, it is tempting to think of voice as a spontaneous outpouring of words, freed from the paraphernalia of print and returned to its proper oracular source. But radio did not simply capture the variety and veracity of vernacular speech as an unsullied essence or unreconstructed presence. Radio was, within the disembodied/distant channels of diasporic address, an alibi to the speaker’s absence. Voice testified in this context, both to the persistence and the precariousness of the speaker’s identity, whose origins and intentions seemed, with the rise of regular overseas broadcasting, at once more palpable, andmore difficult to determine. This paper will consider some of the literary and sonic effects of these new intersections between print and orality on West Indian and West African writers between the 1940s and 1960s.

Rochona Majumdar

Breaking out of Print Culture: Art Cinema in India

A “contagion” of cinema had spread among “film-enthusiasts” in Calcutta in 1952, wrote film director Mrinal Sen, when the city hosted its first international film festival. 

The contagion infected many others. Its main symptom was a number of film societies that mushroomed in different parts of the city and eventually spread to other parts of the country. Leading filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan argued that they had to first create discerning audiences through film societies before embarking on making films that broke with the Indian film mainstream.  All film societies published journals that contained a variety of articles that sought to inculcate the practice of “film appreciation” in their readers. Little magazines in the post-independence period published film scripts, laden with formal terms associated with filmmaking such as cut, dissolve, fade-in, close-up, and so on.  Still others staged arguments about the definition of “good” cinema: was it an aesthetically sophisticated product? Or, did a film have to bear the marks of the conditions of uneven development that characterized the society from which it arose?  Art cinema in India, I argue in this paper, arose in this intermedial space of civil social organizations, print culture, and an urge to break away from a fidelity to the written word into an audio-visual medium.  Straining to break away from the written word in order to be apposite for mass democracy, art films nevertheless remained deeply connected to print—through poetry, pamphleteering, criticism.

Jack Webb

Recovering the Local Publications of Britain’s Caribbean Communities, 1960-1985

Reflecting a research project in its infancy, this paper analyses the intellectual and political connections within and across Caribbean communities of readers and writers throughout Britain. Existing scholarship on Black British History has tended either to focus on London, or extrapolate the regional/national story of Caribbean settlement through the metropolitan centre (Waters, Thinking Black, 2019; Hammond Perry, London is the Place for Me, 2015; Matera, Black London, 2015). Connell’s Black Handsworth (2019) equally tells the story of Black Britain through one particular locale. I argue that through examining the intellectual and political relationships between these communities, as expressed in locally-produced ephemeral print, it is possible to provide a more definitive and nuanced history of the construction of Black Britishness.

The locally produced and read ephemeral print of Caribbean communities, which are yet to be studied by scholars, such as newsletters and magazines (cf. BackaYard News Sheet, Moss Side News, the Granby Gazette, Size Eight: A Magazine by Young Women, Harmony) provided arrivals from the Caribbean with news from their new neighbourhood and nation, as well as from across the Atlantic World. These publications yoked together various genre to include cartoons, poems, and short stories And they detail the development of local political campaigns such as the fight for equal access to housing, education, and employment, that were informed by international and inter-local notions of decolonisation and anti-racism. In deploying ideas conceived in the local, national and international, these publications tell a story of connectivity between locales across Britain and the Black Atlantic as a distinctly Black British identity was emerging.

Neelam Srivastava

Aural aesthetics: listening to Zarina Bhimji’s diasporic landscapes

Zarina Bhimji is a Ugandan-born British artist who has made several film installations and photographs that seek to revisit the moment of the expulsion of South Asians from Uganda in 1972, while also documenting the broader history of the South Asian diaspora. Her works have been described as poetic documentaries or even as “anti-documentary”, for their absence of concrete geographical or historical referents, and have been likened to experimental work about the black diaspora in Britain such as the Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs. This paper explores how Bhimji uses sound to transform the mostly deserted and unpeopled landscapes of her films into deeply affective postcolonial environments, which involves the viewer “listening” to the image. Inthe film installation Out of Blue (2002), Bhimji uses a haunting sonic backdrop to the depictions of the lush Ugandan countryside composed of gunshots, muffled snatches of Ugandan radio broadcast at the time of the expulsion, and the mournful voice of the Pakistani Sufi singer Abida Parveen. Though all of Bhimji’s work centres around the traumatic experience of forced diaspora, her films eschew cultural specificity and instead aim to capture a “mood” evoking exile and loss. The camera panning over a fire in the hills, or filming the receding tarmac behind a plane as it takes off from Entebbe Airport, creates a multiplicity of meanings that go far beyond the immediate present of the scene, evoking the violence of unexpected departure. The “internal architecture” of these images, as Bhimji calls it, is given an additional historical and memorial dimension through the accompanying soundtrack, which remains as enigmatic, however, as the scenes themselves, though the viewer/listener strives to put together sound and vision into a significant whole. As Bhimji explains, her art is also about revisiting the sensations of her childhood self when she experienced the trauma of leaving Uganda without fully understanding it: “I remember a line by TS Eliot. We had the experience but missed the meaning” (Bhimji qtd in Demos, 25).

Isabel Hofmeyr

Hydrocolonial Print Cultures: Coast, Custom House and Dockside Reading

What does the oceanic turn mean for our understanding of book and print cultures?  There is of course a long tradition of work on print cultures, port cities and transoceanic networks.  Yet, much of this work takes the ocean as a backdrop, more surface than volumetric depth.  Recent oceanic scholarship has been urging us to go below the water line, to think in more ecological and material terms about the seaness of the sea and how this might be factored into our particular disciplinary concerns.

This presenation takes up this challenge by thinking about how to put paper and water closer together.  The focus is on the literary consequences of the colonial Custom House which assumed responsibility for copyright policy and censorship.  The presentation places the Custom House in the context of the ecology of the littoral and the port city, showing how these helped shaped the protocols and procedures of Customs officials and hence the way in which they read and dealt with printed matter.  The work is framed within a larger theoretical rubric, hydrocolonialism which the presentation explains.    

Abhijit Gupta

Aliens in Calcutta, 1966, 2019: the many avatars of Bengali SF

This paper looks at three discrete moments in the brief life of Bengali science fiction, articulated through orality, print, and the digital form. Bengali—as well as Indian—engagements with SF had been fitful at best, with no community or fandom to speak of. However, there were certain moments in the 60s and the 70s when it seemed that a climate congenial for SF might be created through the combined platform of radio, film, and print. In particular, a radio broadcast on 16 February 1966, created history when four authors each read out a short story on ‘little green men’. Bookending the broadcast was Premendra Mitra, the most well-known contemporary writer of Bengali SF, and the filmmaker Satyajit Ray, soon to begin writing SF in the Bengali language. The third speaker was a young man called Adrish Bardhan, the editor of the first-ever magazine for SF in Bengali, Ashchorjyo. He had also founded the Science Fiction Cine Club in 1965. Soon, a new magazine Bismoy started its life in 1971, and in 1975, Bardhan began his second magazine, Fantastic.

Despite these happy auguries, SF in Bengali never took off and went into a tailspin towards the end of the century. In the first half, this paper will evaluate the significance of the early years of Bengali SF, not as failure, but as a form still in search of a technological fit. The more familiar forms of radio, print, cinema and comic book admitted SF only on sufferance, and the early lineaments of the genre in Bengali remained trapped in the protocols of Golden Age SF, effectively narratives of ‘little green men’. In the second half, the paper will look at the emergence of the SF collective Kalpabiswa and its eponymous Bengali webzine. A wholly new kind of community-building, as well as the creation of an interpretive community, has been made possible through online publishing, and Kalpabiswa has been at the forefront of not just publishing, but also translating, reprinting, conserving and archiving older instances of the genre. The paper will end on a rainy evening, when the long-lost radio broadcast, discovered by Kalpabiswa and digitized by Jadavpur University, crackled back to life, connecting audiences half a century apart.

Dr Chana Morgenstern

The Literary Journal as a Record:  Acts of Recording in Palestinian Periodicals

This paper will examine the role that anti-colonial Palestinian literary periodicals and columns played in the act of recording as a historical, aural and political process during the 1950’s and 60’s. The focus on rebuilding Arabic culture after the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, coupled with the Israeli censorship of news, meant that literature became a central vehicle of communal documentation. In this paper I will examine poetry and fiction within the journal al-Jadid and the newspaper al-Ittihad, arguing that these periodicals functioned as counter-institutional sites that recorded and disseminated Palestinian history and culture in the absence of official libraries, archives or institutions. In Arabic, as in English, the noun record (sijil) is imbued with multiple possible connotations—a news article, a history, a testimony, a register or a song—echoing the range of records that overlapped in the archival space of the magazine. As an imperative call, “Record!” (sajal!) was definitively invoked by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in his famous poem “Identity Card.” It’s opening line first line “Record! I am an Arab!” (sajal! ana arabi) was prompted by encounter with an Israeli soldier who demanded to see an identity card, without which Palestinians were expelled from the country. In response Darwish furnishes a poetic record of social and collective identity. Like many other works of the same milieu the poem was published in al-Jadid, where Darwish was chief editor, as a textual record of works read in illegal poetry festivals. Such festivals were a rare opportunity for Palestinian gathering and political resistance during the years of military rule. The paper will examine published poetry as a record of performance and political consciousness building. Further, I will analyze the story as a form of documentation and archival retrieval, with a focus on news, historical objects and intertextuality Emile Habiby’s short story collection, The Sextet of Six Days. This work, which was published in al-Jadid in six magazine installments, narrates the political and social aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967. Together these two readings will lend historical and theoretical clarity to the concept of the record in the Palestinian periodical, and shed light on its echoes and afterlives in newspapers, performances and the public sphere.

Kay Dickinson

The Film Club and the Manifesto: Egypt’s Ephemeral of Revolutionary Reappraisal

Immediately after the Arab world’s cataclysmic defeat in the Six-Day War, Egypt embarked upon processes of self-examination across all manner of fields.  Cinema, an established beacon of Nasser’s revolution and by then a partially nationalized industry, became one such site of reappraisal.  From amidst this climate, and initiated by the Ministry of Culture, the Cairo Ciné Club emerged, holding weekly screenings of largely foreign films, complete with live spoken translations when necessary.  In many ways, the Club spearheaded an experiment in opening cinema out beyond, but also as part of, Egypt’s socialist planned economy. 

For each screening, the Club issued a pamphlet containing details of the film(s), relevant interviews, or treatises on the purpose of cinema, frequently translated from other languages.  What do these pamphlets tell us about Egypt’s strategies for the sustenance or revision of an ongoing, postcolonial Arab socialism?  Firstly, they rely upon and further the government’s expansion of education (including literacy of several stripes).  They also reveal a recalibration of cultural taste according to expanded geographies of circulation, ones that helped set the scene for foreign trade renegotiation and new international alignments.  Almost identical gestures distinguish another document circulating in this milieu, “The Manifesto of New Cinema in Egypt,” intended as a call to arms for revitalizing filmmaking in the country.  Simultaneously, the amateur and informal ambience generated the Club, and extended by various independent filmmaking projects launched by its habitués, can be seen to have motored a self-reliance that meshed well with a withdrawal of state provision that was soon to come.  

Awam Amkpa

A Metaphysics of Postcolonial Becoming

What does it mean when artists collect other arts, especially those outside their own practices? Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka avidly collects sculptural and other visual art forms from Africa as references that are significant, not only for their spatial and temporal denotations but arguably to his dramaturgy and literature. Diverse in their media and textual tones – stone, clay, bronze, wood and shell, Soyinka’s collection is deliberately eclectic and reflects a persistent practice of adding to his archives. His choices are not meant to be encyclopedic or historical digests on these art forms. Rather, they constitute referential visual texts, archives and methods of signifying cosmic and material times and place. Paying attention to their lines, motions and emotions enmeshed in spiritual (particularly Ifa) and cross-cultural references to the environments they come from, his collection also highlights these art forms as inter-disciplinary fonts from which visual and performing arts are imagined and produced.

WOLE SOYINKA: Antiquities Across Times and Place underscores his choices and how they signify the multiple temporal spaces with which Africans imagine and engage their world. From Yoruba Ifa divination trays to caryatids and other devotional and decorative forms, their significance as aesthetic foundations, which the dramatist, theatre director and scholar finds useful, are equally and exuberantly extended by other artists whose subjects and style are in conversation with his collection. Sculptor, Olu Amoda, illustrates characters in Wole Soyinka’s classic play Death and the King’s Horseman; painter, Moyo Okediji, equally references the play as well as Ifa divination codes and Egungun masquerades; Peju Alatise uses the creative methods from these art forms to evoke a sculptural political critique of her country, Nigeria; Bruce Onobrakpeya pays homage to the shrines of Ogun; Chris Abani uses the poetry of Ifa as a method for his own; Osaretin Ighile offers a provocative incarnation of Oba Ovoramwen of Benin; Peter Badejo uses dance to highlight the place of some of the works; while Tunde Kelani’s film provides a context that boldly places the art works in culture and history.

Together, these works, placed in conversation, boldly invent antiquity and assert the multi-temporal spaces and historical places to which spectators are invited. They also refuse the binary of ‘tradition’ and ‘modern’ to stress artistic foundations that are not only archival but also inform contemporary methods of making art.