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Conflict and the Arts

July 5, 2012

Over at Slate-Africa, African novelist Abdourahman Waberi interviews Bhakti Shringarpure, friend and rock star editor of Warscapes magazine, on the challenges of successfully getting a publication off the ground, the “poetics of crisis,” and the exciting things that Warscapes has planned for the near future.

For those who are francophonically challenged, below is a translation of the discussion into English (courtesy of Michael Bronner):

Abdourahman Waberi: Bhakti Shringarpure is a young writer and academic born in Bombay in 1977. She teaches literature and postcolonial theory in New York (Hunter College). Curious, feisty and enterprising, with a little smile and mischievous eyes, she has in a few months and with a few friends started an amazing magazine. Warscapes is both a platform for expression and an ambitious laboratory for political, civil and aesthetic concerns. Literature and the arts from the Global South (from Africa to India and beyond), it takes on the themes of violence from particular areas ravaged by conflict are published online and valued. These perspectives and freely and gracefully shared with readers. We, in turn, call on Bhakti Shringarpure to give us a little tour of the magazine. In solidarity.

Waberi: How did you come up with a idea of this magazine?

Shringarpure: Warscapes is a culmination of many different experiences. I remember being a teenager in Mumbai when the tensions between Hindus and Muslims escalated to war-like proportions and while I was in a safe neighborhood, I was aware people were getting slaughtered with swords in the name of religion just a couple of kilometers away. The shock of this has always stayed with me. Years later, my doctoral studies coincided with the post-9/11 phase in New York City and it was very polemical time and there were strong anti-intellectual sentiment in the air. I was studying under Ammiel Alcalay and through him I was exposed to this idea which he called “Poetics of Crisis” – the creation of art and literature under duress. I was led to Palestinian poetry to Algeria, and then to the period of Cold War and its effect on the global South. Finding out about the sheer amount of proxy wars and the kind of dehumanization it has wreaked on worlds that were just experiencing the end of colonialism led to a complete shift in my consciousness. In the popular consciousness, it is as if history has stopped with the European world wars. I knew that it was important to understand the experience of war through a different paradigm. I wanted Warscapes to be a lens into everything that has come after.

Waberi: Why an online magazine?

Shringarpure: I live in New York and am familiar with publishing there. I find that it is a very finite space and the categories are not very porous. For example, if one book from Rwanda or Nigeria or Burma is published, then that spot is immediately filled up and it becomes the definitive book about those places. It leaves no space for other texts and counterpoints. Michael Bronner my co-founder feels similarly about the corporatization and commercialization of journalism. Web publishing is a pretty simple intervention into that and it requires a very small budget.

Waberi: In a few months, you have accomplished an incredible task? How do you evaluate yourself at this stage?

Shringarpure: Thank you. When we started out, we felt that we would have an article or maybe two very five or six weeks. We have ourselves been shocked at the speed with which we have received submissions and now we publish two, sometimes three pieces each week. At this stage, the goal is expand by having more people on the team and making partnerships with like-minded organizations. We have also arrived at a point when we do need some funding so that we can carry on developing the site and nurturing writers and artists.

Waberi: Any future projects?

Shringarpure: We have lots of things coming up. In the Retrospectives section, we plan to focus on Indonesia and after that Sudan and Cameroon. We are also hoping to have smaller retrospectives focused on themes that will run for about 2 or 3 weeks. A big question is how to facilitate more works in translation. I am also wondering about the possibility of making more liaisons with universities in non-western countries and have a vague sense that involving some of those students in writing/reviewing for the magazine might yield something exciting.

Waberi: How do you view African and pan-African cultural and artistic production ?

Shringarpure: I find there is an enormous body of art and literature across the African continent. African artists and intellectuals have everything going against them – the way the West views them, the various internal problems in different regions, the tentacles of globalization, lack of money for the arts, complicated relationships with native and colonial languages and a general resistance against the dissemination of their works in the world. All artistic and cultural production has to find a delicate balance of dealing with these pressure and then also conveying human experiences. I think this makes it very rich and complex. However, I do hope there can more efforts to bring the disparate African worlds together no matter what the categories – Francophone, Anglophone, Lusophone, Maghrebian, Sub-Saharan etc. I would like to see more inter-African translations and collaborations.

Waberi : Are you trying to create a bridge between the large cultural spaces of the Global South, perhaps Africa on one hand and the Indian subcontinent on the other ?

Shringarpure: Yes absolutely. I think by simply having a magazine that refuses to focus on a region allows for that. The triumphant discourse of technological and material development in India are particularly infuriating and obscure the many separatist movements, the plight of the poor, the dehumanizing impact of neocolonialism and the sheer violence of daily life. I would like nothing more than to shatter these ideologies and remind remind everybody how shared and linked the histories of the global South are. This is, of course, an almost impossible task.


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