The first panel featured Emily Hyde’s presentation on the Guyanese artist Denis Williams, focusing on his book art and 1963 novel, Other Leopards. She described his work as “a tour of image and text in the decolonizing world” as he moved between Guyana, London, Sudan, and Nigeria, working on projects that ranged from the fine arts to archeology. Williams was well-respected and successful within the fine arts’ scene in London; nonetheless, interpretations of his paintings often focused on “exotic” elements. Williams in turn changed his style, becoming increasingly abstract and mathematical. While in London, Williams produced book art on behalf of authors belonging to the “Windrush Generation,” the largely Caribbean migrant population in London in the mid-20th century. His frontispieces, portraiture, and illustrations make texts present as a material object, moreover perpetuating a new relationship between the work and the onlooker other than that of being “captured” by the image or drawn into the economic market. His images instead presented challenges to the beholder, often turning away and suggesting the subject’s interiority, or gazing outward and invoking a visionary state. Hyde suggests that reading his images as paratext can nuance our understandings of the Windrush Generation.
Binita Mehta’s talk contrasted two French-language bandes dessinées: “The Life of Pahé” by the Gabonese author known by his penname, Pahé, and “The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East” by the Syrian caricaturist Riad Sattouf. Both graphic memoirs reflect upon childhood with illuminating differences; while Pahé adopts a non-linear flashback narrative strategy, bringing irony and caricature to the fore in his reflections on education, self-representation, and the structures of the state, Sattouf adopts a seemingly straightforward narration told from the child’s perspective that makes a critical reading of patriarchy in both family and state systems more subdued. Artistic choices contribute to each author’s seeming priorities. Pahé draws upon representational contrast and caricature for heightened ironic effect, often in ways that focus on the erasures of African bodies and histories. For example, Pahé’s childhood self confuses Briton history as his own, and the artist’s representations of individual African faces and bodies is placed in distinct contrast to Tintin in the Congo, where Africans as all drawn the same. Meanwhile, the deliberate use of color association in Sattouf’s memoir highlights the role of memory and its relation to sensory perception, while moreover creating a “powerfully claustrophobic effect as if [different] countries are sealed off.”
Rudrani Gangopadhyay’s presentation, “Paratext City as Text: New Strategies in Reading (and Mapping),” focused on the graphic narrative The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers by Sarnath Banerjee. The narrative is not only deeply intertextual, related to both real and nonexistent books of caricature, but moreover requires the reader to engage with the paratext. Paratextual material – understood twofold, as the material that surrounds the narrative text, as well as the significance embedded in physical locations in cities such as Calcutta – is referenced in the narrative, collapsing the distinction between paratext and text to form a “psychic map.” Gangopadhyay ultimate argued that Banerjee invites the reader to invent new critical frameworks for accessing, reading, and theorizing his book.
Vikrant Dadawala focused on the 1960s-80s as “decades of postcolonial disillusionment” in Hindi cinema and poetry. His presentation, “Of Lonely Poets and Foreign Soap: Disillusionment and Hope in the New Indian Cinema,” depicted the interlacing of visual and print cultures with the use of the Hindi poet Gajanan Muktibodh’s “Wasteland-like” epic poetry in the film Satah Se Uthata Aadmi by Mani Kaul. The poetic voice is fragmented in this film, recited by multiple voices, while the continuous noise of train tracks links scenes together and transforms the train from a symbol of hope to one of stagnation and non-arrival. Dadawala argues that poetic worldmaking comes apart in this era, responding to multiple failures with the end of the Bandung Movement, Nehru’s socialism, and the imagined future of a Soviet India. The space of literary modernity transfers from cityscape to small town, where something new must be formed from the ruins of Nehruian socialism.
andré carrington’s meditation on the film Black Panther began from the question, “What is potentially queer about comics’ fabulation and thus the formal relation comics bear to queer politics?” His presentation, “Watching Wakanda: Desiring Blackness on the Page and the Screen with Black Panther,” interrogated blackness as a desiring practice, where moreover, “The desires that we might read as queer within the text are already spoken for—or already arranged—by the term black.” carrington explored the multiple iterations of the comics and the desire for blackness, from representations of Tarzan, Amazons and Wonder Woman’s black sister, Nubia, to the most recent depictions of Black Panther that take up black nationalism and internationalism in the series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. As a film, Black Panther makes visible the labor of black bodies, along with different stories of diaspora and origin with those involved in its production. The labor of black bodies in the film itself require attention, from the high ethical standards for female blackness presented by the female characters, to the fictional echoes of precolonial female guards and attendants in the kingdom of Dahomey—along with the transformed interpretive structure provided in the shift from comics to film. carrington suggests that reimagined narratives can “pay off the debt” of former imaginings, while at the same time pointing to how they can give rise to different costs: gendered roles, heteronormative sexualities, and romance as indexes of modernity. Blackness, particularly when understood in relation to queer politics, can help us work through these problems.
Shirin Nadira’s talk, “Veils and Vigiliantes: Representations of Muslim Girlhood in Burka Avenger and Persepolis,” queried how these visual narratives intervene in the critical debates over Muslim femininity. The Pakistani children’s cartoon, Burka Avenger, has been lauded for “rescripting” the burka, drawing upon an assumption that veiling practices stand for oppression; this symbolic burden mutes the protests of the show’s own creator, who points to a utilitarian repurposing of a local garment. Meanwhile, Persepolis makes the veil an object for children’s imaginative play, creating an individuation that contrasts with the ideological debates over veiling practices. Nadira moreover points to the inadequacy of simply positing schooling for girls as emancipatory, for it socializes children into a certain way of being. Nonetheless, animation and graphic narration offer apt means of portraying and theorizing agency and autonomy, especially for children, educating and entertaining at the same time.
The talks were followed by a screening of the short film Thioroye by the Sea, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Devin Thomas. The film depicts Senegalese rapper Sister LB in the seaside community of Thioroye outside Dakar, which was moreover the setting and subject of a film by Ousmane Sembene. Thomas describes her work as in conversation with surrealism, and the work of juxtaposition resonates in moments such as Sister LB rapping in Wolof while her mother sings in Mandinka, creating an impressionistic snapshot of postcolonial modernity that weaves together translation and inaccessibility, normativity and desires for and practices of difference, globality and that which is intimately local.
Amit Chaudhuri delivered the keynote address, “The Alien Face of Cosmopolitanism,” a reading from his new book, The Origins of Dislike (Oxford University Press, 2018). The essay meditates upon histories of modernism and postcolonial nationalism, arguing that there is a deep sense of alterity embedded within the modern. The two are not opposed to one another, but rather fashioned in the same world. Chaudhuri recognizes the modern in India through this convergence of alterity and the local, where for example visual abstraction of color and form used as a modernist technique by the filmmaker Mani Kaul is echoed in the textures and colors of saris.