Her eyes are pulled to a fixed point above us and she seems to find her words only there. Her voice carries, as strange and fluid as her movement: Ruth Padel is quite the performer and she is performing with an aim – she has clear messages. Her poems are enacted rather than spoken, recited not read. In fact it is so enjoyable that we are even prepared to forgive the quality of her slides (as informative and interesting as they are, the photo quality is not great – perhaps this adds to the conversational, natural atmosphere). Her stories are natural and we, the audience, are happy to meander with her trail of thought. Sometimes it gets so far you aren’t sure if she’s lost her trail, but then she comes full circle and dives into the next poem. There is a lot of movement to her: be it her meandering speaking style, the lilt to her voice or, most importantly, the migration of people and animals in her poetry. The subject of her latest volume of poetry mixed with prose, from which she was reading, is migration. The Mara Crossing draws seemingly heterogeneous strands of migration and ties them together. A descendant of Charles Darwin, she is naturally inclined to describe the social impetus to move in terms of the biological. Padel speaks of the migration path of the bar-headed geese over Mount Everest, where they treacherously fly year on year and many die. Apart from this being a literally amazing feat, the question begs to be asked: why? Why not just fly around? The answer lies first in history and then in biology: the flight path was there before the mountains and genetic (would the drive to fly for food and nesting grounds also be social?) determinism literally drives them over the same path, adapting as the years go by so that they can survive the treacherous conditions. The adaptation takes the form of the haemoglobin in these birds absorbing oxygen faster than other birds and their capillaries penetrating deeper into their muscles so that they can get more oxygen. The migration paths of the bar-headed geese pre-date the Himalayas and it seems beautifully absurd that their haemoglobin and capillaries would change, rather than their genetic programming. It is a story you can tell she loves to tell. It is the story of the need to travel; the impetus to move. Continue reading
This gallery contains 19 photos.
Ahead of her book launch and panel discussion at the Festival on Friday, Lecturer in Culture, Digital Humanities & Creative Industries Btihaj Ajana explains why it’s time we reconsidered our approach to immigration and asylum issues:
Immigration is a hot topic at the moment. Over the last few months, the UK Home Office has been running a series of controversial schemes including the immigration arrest adverts, immigration spot-checks targeting ethnic populations in London, and most recently the ordering of gay and lesbian asylum seekers to ‘prove’ their sexuality. There is nothing new about the fear-mongering attitudes and negative sentiments currently surrounding immigration issues in Britain and elsewhere. Historically, immigration has always been a sensitive topic as it inevitably calls into question issues of identity, difference, belonging, entitlement, race and so on. These recent schemes, however, are representative of a larger socio-political shift in which a new kind of imaginary is emerging; an imaginary that is shaped by an increasing sense of suspicion towards the ‘other’ and the ‘normalisation’ of various illiberal practices. Fear is becoming a powerful tool of governing and regulating the population. Whether in public discourses, political debates or news media, immigrants and asylum seekers are increasingly being constructed as an existential threat to the well-being and security of the nation. As such, reactions to immigration and asylum issues are currently caught up in a vicious circle whereby governments are responding to public anxieties with more fear-driven measures which, in turn, only ends up fuelling more anxieties and negative attitudes. Fear seems to be, at the moment, a dominant relational affect and a major binding force between citizens and the State.
At one level, the problem is undoubtedly that of (mis-)representation and decontextualisation. Within mainstream political discourses and news reports on issues of immigration and asylum, there is a marked deficit in positive representation and constructive media reporting, coupled with a lack of factual analysis that is capable of addressing this misbalance. Moreover, these debates and reactions often tend to tear issues of immigration and asylum away from their historical and political context. One should not ignore the fact that the enduring legacies of colonialism together with a rising neoliberal globalisation are all some of the undeniable factors that have been deepening the world’s staggering economic inequalities and socio-political problems, and thereby feeding into the wider contextual backdrop of asylum and immigration issues. Staging these issues as if they were stand-alone and decontextualised problems, that only concern ‘others’, is rather irresponsible and misses the bigger picture.
It is about time that so-called citizens begin to question whence their rights and privileges come and to what extent these privileges might be oppressive to others. Parenthetically, this is not about fostering a culture of blame or guilt but a call for a collective and more informed, responsible, accountable and ethical response to issues that do not only touch those who are portrayed as others but the entire fabric of humanity.
Mat Fraser likes to push boundaries. In the past, this has involved drumming in a punk band, creating and starring in his own musical ‘Thalidomide!’ (about the 1960s morning sickness drug that caused thousands of babies being born with impaired limbs), and routinely getting naked in the burlesque show ‘The Freak and the Showgirl’, where he does comedy, singing and dancing together with his wife, burlesque superstar Julie Atlas Muz.
Fraser’s work is equally entertaining and political, and has caused turmoil both in mainstream and disability culture. He was part of the cast of several soap operas and of the critically acclaimed Channel 4 series ‘Cast Offs’; he performed in Coney Island in a contemporary freak show and he performed as a drummer the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony. He also starred in plays by Graeae and was part of an all-disabled recreation of Rodin’s sculpture ‘The Kiss’. What makes his work particularly refreshing is that it is shamelessly entertaining but also unapologetically reveals and questions stigma and stereotypes surrounding disabled sexuality and the disabled body in general.
A lot of Mat Fraser’s work explores the history of the freak show: This space used to be the only option for disabled people who wanted to work in performance or in show business, and Fraser’s work fascinatingly illustrates how the representation of disability has changed over the years, and how contemporary freak shows, like Coney Island, operate.
In “Fairground Freaks & Global Elites” – a comedy show about hideous things and how progress sings, Fraser again carefully draws attention to those themes, but includes, in his typical manner, wicked humour that is anything but politically correct and taboo-defying, and thus this wildly entertaining one hour show is the perfect way to start off Friday evening.
“Fairground Freaks & Global Elites” – A shamelessly entertaining Friday evening with Mat Fraser takes place this Friday (18 October) in the Great Hall at the Strand Campus. Book your tickets here.
Ahead of Professor Willard McCarty’s lecture on The Digital and the Human at the upcoming Arts & Humanities Festival, long-time colleague and Head of the Department of Digital Humanities Andrew Prescott offers some thoughts on the recent award of the Roberto Busa Prize to the man who has been described as the ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi of digital humanities’.
The epithet was offered by Matthew Jockers in introducing Willard’s Busa lecture, which marked the award of the major international prize for lifetime achievement in the digital humanities. Continue reading