Absent Voices #5: “What is your problem with our Freedom?”: Lipstick under my Burkha and the Indian Patriarchy

Artwork from 2016 film ‘Lipstick Under my Burkha’. Attribution: Alankrita Shrivastava, (director). Facebook post 8 November 2016. [online]. https://www.facebook.com/alankrita.shrivastava.
The question put forth in the title is the one that Rehana Abidi (played by Plabita Borthakur), one of the four protagonists of Alankrita Srivastava’s latest release Lipstick under my Burkha (India, 2017), asks in the film while interviewed by a journalist at an agitation against the decision of banning jeans for women in the college.  The irony of the utterance comes to a full circle through the refusal of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to release the film in India.  Two points are of tremendous importance in the letter of refusal from the CBFC. The film was denied release because “the story is lady-oriented, their fantasy above [sic] life. There are contanious [sic] sexual scenes and abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society” (emphasis mine). The basis for the embargo on the exhibition of the film in India seems to connect to the narrative’s depiction of four women exercising choice in their own lives, a premise which the CBFC considers as “their fantasy” about life. Indeed, as long Continue reading

Absent Voices #4: Giving Voice to the Dead and the Non-living: Music and Collaboration on the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Northern France. Designed by Walter Seymour. Completed in 1936.

In early April, Canada will mark the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge: a seminal conflict in the First World War, relying on the successful collaboration of British and Canadian forces on the French battleground, and which was to be the first true moment of nationhood for the infant Canada. Indeed, the battle was hugely successful in military terms, which saw the soldiers retake the ridge from German forces in three days. But lest we forget, such success also inevitably relies on the deaths of thousands.

To that end, let us also consider the Vimy Memorial: a monolithic, modernist construction unveiled in 1936, comprised of two stone pillars jutting up from the battleground at Vimy. It is grand, imposing; the structure dominates the ridge and peers over the picturesque French landscape below. Around the base of the structure, some 11,000 names are engraved: the dead Canadian soldiers whose locations remain unknown. However, in a startling juxtaposition of style and form, the pillars are inlaid with twenty neoclassical statues, each variously personifying virtues, symbols, people, and tableaux. At the base of the memorial, Mother Canada (both a personification of the nation and a symbolic Mater Dolorosa), looks despondently upon the now-peaceful ridge, still scarred by this century-old battle. Continue reading

Absent Voices #3: Words from the Soul: Private Letters between John Locke and Damaris Masham

Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on canvas. 76×64 cm. Britain, 1697. Source of Entry: Collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779. Attribution: Sir Godfrey Kneller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
It’s not often, as a Gender Studies researcher studying the history of philosophy, that I find myself wanting to hear more from one of the famous-dead-white-men that make up the bulk of the field. You might be especially surprised to hear that, after working my way through An Essay Concerning Human Understanding from start to finish, I wanted to hear more from John Locke. When my PhD project is on early modern women philosophers, women whose philosophical voices are still too often absent from the classroom, why would I want to read missing texts from one of the great canonical English philosophers, a man whose writings we possess in abundance?

It’s like this. One of the women I’m studying is Damaris Masham (1658/9-1708), a philosopher whose thought is largely known to us through her two published treatises. But they weren’t all she wrote. Masham was an extremely close friend of Locke’s – they met when she was twenty-two, twenty-three, when he was already an established philosopher of nearly fifty. They quickly struck up an exchange of letters which lasted for several years. The only reason the epistolary flow between them stopped was that he actually moved into the house Masham shared with her husband and lived there until his death. They were close enough that snide comments were made at the time about the “seraglio” at the Masham household, and speculation has been made since about the extent to which their intense friendship bordered on a romantic connection. Continue reading

Absent Voices #2: Chasing Echoes: The Perpetrator’s Voice in the History of Violence

Double-deck burning in 2011 England Riots. Attribution: By VOA Persian Interview (VOA TV) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
In the summer of 2011 several English cities witnessed explosions of very public violence. Rioters, for the most part young men, smashed windows, looted shops, set fires and threw stones at the ranks of armoured police who descended on them. Afterwards, most people responded in one of two ways. Right-wing politicians and commentators lined up behind David Cameron to condemn ‘mindless violence and thuggery’. On the left, the story was about inequality, unemployment and bad policing. With a few honourable exceptions, nobody asked the rioters.

People who do violent things usually have some sense of why they do them. We might not like their reasoning, but we can’t properly understand violence without it. Sticking with the riots as an example, the left-wing narrative clearly has a lot to be said for it, with interpretations backed up by solid data on urban deprivation. But it lacks the voice of the Londoner in his mid-20s who said, ‘When no one cares about you you’re gonna eventually make them care, you’re gonna cause a disturbance.’ For him rioting wasn’t an instinctive reaction to big structural forces – it was strategic, a sensible thing to do under the circumstances.

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Absent Voices #1 (Feature Piece): Adversity, Spontaneity, and the Forgotten Song of the Nightingale in our Urban Experience

An Uber has been sent to your location. But has anyone actually sent it? Is it not acting rather on its own instructions? Sure, certain transport purists claim that Uber drivers do not know where they are going, that they blindly follow route guidance. Others, Uber’s faithful customers, say they don’t mind being taken down dead ends or across the odd playing field on their way home. Some, sent home by friends having disgraced themselves on a night out, are too drunk to notice. 

In any case, the Uber journey invariably begins with the U-turn. For when you press ‘Request Uber’ on your smartphone application, somewhere, minutes away—urban distance is now measured in minutes, not miles—an Uber is obliged to halt in the street, perform a U-turn, and head your way.

What is so unusual about that? The U-turning Uber is fast becoming an urban commonplace in London, rivalling the black cab cruising down an empty bus lane while you sit motionless in traffic, or the ranks of chip shops along the high street promising a final refuge for your Saturday night. Take a walk through Shoreditch this weekend and you will see streets thick with U-turning Ubers, cavorting and convulsing in the thoroughfare like ecstatic devotees.

Still, there is something rather odd about all this. Dangerous, ungainly, and impromptu, the U-turn is everything that the Uber website promises the service is not. In the moment of the U-turn, all that slickness goes out the window. How could this seamless system of ‘Tap and Ride’ ever permit such an aberration? We expect a sublime service: to be surprised by the driver—his engine almost silent—rolling up from nowhere (or rather, falling off a virtual map and appearing in the real) like on the forecourt of a posh hotel.

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Call For Blog Submissions: (Absent) Voices

absent-voicesFor March 2017, our theme over at the Still Point blog will be (Absent) Voices. We are seeking blog posts from doctoral and early career researchers that engage the subject of voices in a multiplicity of ways – the voices you use in your research, the voices that are defining political and academic discussion today, and the voices that are typically marginalised or suppressed within academic and other communities. Submissions usually take the form of non-fiction, but we also accept fiction, poetry, and visual art.

 

Ideally submissions will be:

  • between 500-750 words with original or high quality images (but we may accept longer pieces)
  • for visual and multimedia artists, send us high quality images of your artwork or embed links to sound, video work, or gifs, accompanied by up to 300 words.

We encourage creativity and flexibility, both in response to the theme and in terms of the form which entries take.

The Still Point Journal is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers in London, funded by the LAHP (London Arts & Humanities Partnership) and the AHRC. Our focus is on non-fiction writing related to the process and the experience of conducting research, and on creative articulations of and responses to this experience.

Please send submissions to blog@thestillpointjournal.com