Women, Creativity, and Dissidence

“To Be Singularly Nomadic or a Territorialized National: at the Crossroads of Francophone Women’s Writing of the Maghreb”
Valérie Orlando

This study seeks to determine which theoretical-literary camp, either the Nomadic or the Singular, is more favorable to Maghrebian women authors who write in French. Analyses of several works by women from this region through a different lens will propose a unique space which is different than that espoused by these two divergent analytical models. While nomadic constructions are useful for heroines in novels such as Moroccan/Belgian-Beur Leïla Houari’s Zeida de nulle part and Algerian-exiled -in-France Malika Mokeddem’s L’Interdit, who search physically and metaphorically in two spheres without rooting themselves in either, many other texts by women call for a new feminine ethics by which to explore the postcolonial condition influencing the feminine realms of the francophone Maghreb. Certainly contemporary Moroccan women authors writing in French are making a significant impact on Moroccan society by being socio-political activists. These authors include Siham Benchekroun (Oser Vivre!, 2002), Aïcha Ech-Channa Miseria: Témoignages, 2004) and Linda Rfaly (Grain de folie, 2004), among many others. These women challenge masculine purviews, while underscoring the fact that their works are as much grounded and invested in historical-revolutionary events and contemporary social issues as those of men’s. I argue that these women’s stories lie at the crossroads of the Nomad and Nationalist models and are building bridges of dialogue between the Maghreb and France/Europe/The West, while also impacting traditional society in their homelands.


“Feminist or Simply Feminine? Reflections on the Works of Nana Asma’u, a 19th Century West African Woman Poet, Intellectual & Social Activist”
Chukwuma Azuonye

The present paper discusses the themes, techniques and significance of the poems of Asma bt. 'Uthman b. Muhammad Fodiye, a.k.a. Nana Asma'u (1797-1864), one of the daughters of Shaykh 'Uthman b. Muhammad Fodiye, the leader of the Islamic revolution of early 19th century in present-day north-eastern Nigeria. It concludes that, while a feminist reading of the poems may be tempting, given Nana Asma'u's outspokenness in a male-dominated world, her intellectual and moral leadership does not seem to have arisen from any feminist impulses or ideology. It seems in fact to be completely in conformity with traditional feminine roles recognized both by Islam and her non-Islamic West African heritage. The paper stresses the need for a proper understanding of, and distinction between, traditional West African feminism and Western feminism.


“Outrageous Behavior: Women’s Public Performance in North Africa”
Laura Chakravarty Box

This article expands on the author’s previously published work. It is part of an ongoing study regarding the strategies of resistance and dissidence employed in plays and performance texts created by women artists in North Africa, specifically Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Central to the discussion is the strategy of behaving outrageously, outside of the boundaries of polite society. This approach is used by the artists under discussion, as well as by the fictional characters they fashion, to create social awareness and change in their own societies and across national borders—outrageous behavior is mobilized in response to the outrages of inequity, corruption and violence.


“‘Blurred Genres, Blended Memories’: Engendering Dissent in African Women’s Childhood Narratives”
Katwiwa Mule

My paper presents a revisionist reading of the politics and poetics of feminism in the narration of childhood experiences in Nawal el Saadawi’s Memoirs of a Woman Doctor and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. These two novels, which are also the first major work by each of these now canonical African women writers, have generally been read either in terms of a ‘feminist’ or a ‘nationalist’ aesthetic; reading tropes which both writers have explicitly espoused but also ones whose certain versions they have decisively repudiated. In some extremely problematic readings, El Saadawi’s novel is thought to display certain simplicity, if not naiveté, in terms of its aesthetic ideology while Dangarembga’s novel figures (unconsciously) in certain versions of post-colonial criticism as narration of the triumph of modernity over tradition. My argument is that in their fictionalized narration of childhood, the two novels present a subversive blurring of generic boundaries as well as the boundary between the self and the social as a result of which both texts, in their narrative strategies, present us with a dissident subject; a ‘subject’ who, in the words of Biodun Jeyifo, “is present in [her] writing and acts in an elaborate [fusion] of the self and the social as a basis for both self-idealized and self-critical engagements of the often terrifying dilemmas of the life and times of the modern postcolony” (xxi). It is this complexity, the constant negotiation of the self who is also social, wherein lies the subversiveness and the political radicalism of the two texts that goes beyond these paradigms. Can Nawal el Saadawi’s Memoirs of a Woman Doctor and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions be considered autobiographical novels? To what extent should critics pay attention to the authors’ statements about their works as one of the ways to understanding the larger politics of their texts? How do we define autobiography? The paper urges a reconsideration of the conventional definition of autobiography, arguing that the blurring of the distinction between the personal and the social, that is to say, the autobiographication of fiction and the fictionalization of autobiography, in these two novels calls for more context-specific and nuanced understanding of African women’s modern literature.


“Politics by other means: The Art of Gazbia Sirry and Ghada Amer”
Chika Okeke-Agulu

The paper discuses the works of two Egyptian women artists: Gazbia Sirry (b. 1925) and Ghada Amer (b. 1963), arguably among the most accomplished artists of their generations. In the late 1960s and 1970s  Sirry's paintings, dramatically abstract, spoke to the crushing defeat Egypt suffered in the hands of Israel in the 1967 war, and in the subsequent years mapped the psychological rehabilitation of the nation by the reintroduction of human forms into her compositions. On the hand, Amer’s work, combining painting and embroidery (a patently gendered practice), challenged clichéd notions about female desire and private pleasures—a difficult subject particularly in post-Nasserite and increasingly radicalized and Islamized Egyptian society. My paper will show how their works reflect different and changing attitudes to politics, women and the social experience, and to the history of art.…


“The Price of Dissidence”
Samar Attar

The paper is an inquiry into the price I have paid as a writer for being considered a dissident in Syria. It is not necessary for a writer who wishes to express her opinion freely to end up in prison, or murdered. There are other ways to kill writers: exile, silencing, closing all the loops for publication, marginalization and even ideological criticism. Humanity has known all these methods, both in East and West. But perhaps the ugliest forms have surfaced more in dictatorships. Totalitarian systems destroy writers.

The paper is also an inquiry into the relationship between translation and censorship and my own role as an Arab author/translator of two of my novels—Lina: A Portrait of a Damascene Girl (1994) and The House on Arnus Square (1998). The translation act in this sense is one of the strategies to assert a voice that has been suppressed. I have translated my works not as an act of vanity or as an exercise of bilingualism à la Samuel Beckett, but in response to continuous repression and lack of freedom which have prevented my Arabic books from being made available in the Middle East.


“Durable Dreams: Dissent, Critique, and Creativity In Faat Kine And Moolaade”
Jude G. Akudinobi

Ousmane Sembene’s oeuvre, in many ways, grants African feminism a legitimacy of its own, denying recurrent attempts to fit it within valorized, largely Western, templates for liberation. Not surprising, “Faat Kine” and “Moolaade” , the first two films in a planned trilogy which, according to Sembene, honor the “everyday heroism” of women, challenge certain assumptions about African womanhood, and remarkably demonstrate a range of contexts and indigenous precepts from which alternative modes of dissent, being, and liberation can spring. By and large, these heroines are not ‘spit-and-polish’ characters shone to perfection in the virtual world of imagination or the screen. Firmly anchored within the quotidian, Sembene, significantly, imbues their experiences and radical potentials with necessary qualifications. Opening up the women’s cultural worlds to concerted critical reappraisals thus affords Sembene the necessary latitude to formulate transgressive frameworks with which to explore certain exigencies of culture as well as broader questions about creativity and dissidence.


“African Literature and the Woman: The Imagined Reality as a Strategy of Dissidence”
Chimalum Nwankwo

This article is a study which defines dissidence in African literature. A typology establishes three recognizable modes, the active, passive, and catalytic in the practice or productions of leading African writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Buchi Emecheta, and Flora Nwapa, and Nawal EL Saadawi. The essay determines and concludes that any imaginary dealing with dissidence and feminist projects for social justice which avoids the criticism of Gods and deities or the Great Imaginary will end squeamish and ineffectual. The history of Western thought proves it through its major phases of the necessary iconoclasm which changed human destiny in the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, the new eighteenth century epistemology which defined the Age of Reason, and the nihilistic visions associated with Marxism-Leninism which ushered in modernity. The works of Flora Nwapa in that regard excels in the enterprise of dissidence because the onslaught of her thought and vision radicalizes the ontology which houses the controlling Imaginary of a fictive world that is closely related to the world of her people.


“Guantanamo: A Feminist Perspective on U.S. Human Rights Violations”
Victoria Brittain

Guantanamo, Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, is a play using only the words of the families of British prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, their censored letters home, and the explanations of their lawyers of the legal black hole their clients are in.
The play opened in London in May 2004 and ran in two theatres until September. It was put on in New York for four months and has been in Sweden (in translation). It is due to open in theatres from San Francisco, to Italy, to New Zealand, and possibly in other theatres in various countries. It has been seen in hundreds of communities in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia, where readings have been done by non-actors as well as professionals.
The characters are British, but with widely differing original backgrounds: Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jamaica and St Lucia. Family members who agreed to be interviewed were almost invariably men, fathers or brothers. The women rarely even emerged during an interview, though sometimes they sent in tea. The interviews were arranged through their lawyers, and in every case where there was no male family member to consult, the family refused to give any interviews. There is only one woman in the play, a lawyer.
However, the image of female absence or passivity in relation to Guantanamo has been transformed in the year since the interviews were done, in March and April 2004. Several of the families came to the play and thereafter became relatively active in the increasing numbers of public meetings and pressure on the British government, following the play’s unexpectedly successful reception across the U.K. political spectrum. The same phenomenon of empowerment for some of the grieving mothers is true for families in other places such as Kuwait.
The nine British citizens held in Guantanamo have been released during this year, and a great deal of information about the level of human rights abuse which has taken place at Guantanamo has come from them, and is confirmed by other released prisoners, and by guards. The notorious torture pictures from Abu Ghraib have their origins in the regime drawn up in Guantanamo. The play did not reveal this, nor the use of sexual torture by uneducated female guards and interrogators which is now well-known to have been a key method in US authorities’ attempts to break devout muslim men.
But the play does highlight the stories of three men seized by US forces in Pakistan and Gambia and taken first to Bagram in Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo. Two of them, are among six UK residents, not citizens, still there. In the last year it has emerged that this kidnapping was a common pattern in the US “war on terror.”

Dissidence, Creativity and Embargo Art in Nuha Al Radi’s Baghdad Diaries”
Brinda Mehta

The current state of geo-political anomie facilitated by the leveling forces of globalization and the ideology of Western capitalism has created a New World dis-order in which war represents the preferred agenda of a Western masculinist elite. The war in Iraq exemplifies the hegemonic need to create a moral compulsion for war under the guise of
protecting homeland security interests that have, in fact, become a smoke screen for Capitol(ist) greed, racism, and the unilateral control of natural resources. Within this context, the late Iraqi-born artist Nuha Al-Radi makes a critical personalized intervention in the masculine discourse of war by writing Baghdad Diaries, thereby offering a woman-centered perspective on war, occupation and twelve years of economic sanctions through the medium of diary-keeping, painting, and sculpture. Written as a first hand, eye witness account of the terror and daily destruction inflicted by the war on defenseless citizens, Baghdad Diaries becomes Al-Radi's creative and peaceful response to violence and military aggression, a parallel narrative of hope to counter war's nihilism.
Organized as a series of narrative vignettes that offer an insider's perspective into a part of the world that has been systematically orientalized and demonized by the 'civilizing' imperatives of the Christian West, Baghdad Diaries exemplifies the art of writing for survival through the creative expansiveness of the spirit. Al-Radi concretizes an ethos of peace in her work through a creative and dissident 'art for survival' esthetics. Each phase of artistic production mirrors a particular stage in Iraqi political history, ranging from "Embargo Art" to environmentally-sensitive recycled sculptures. For the artist, recycled art becomes a tribute to the people of Iraq, a small gesture of humanity amid the persistence of imperialist domination and a 'bloody' democracy.