The Cavendish Chronicle, issue 2021/2022 'Transitions'

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13 May 2022 ‘Transitions’




ABOUT THE MAGAZINE The Cavendish Chronicle is a yearly print magazine from Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, aimed at highlighting the diversity of voices at our vibrant, international college. It showcases creative writing, feature articles, art, photography and other miscellaneous pieces. To stay up to date, follow us on Facebook: @thecavendishchronicle And visit our website: All feedback, inqueries and submissions should be directed at: 2









Perpetual Gender Transition by Oscar Sharples


From Absence to Virtual Presence: Covid-19 and the Imagination of Death by Shikha Dwivedi


Escape from Moscow by Sophia Fjuss


Digital Degradation by Elijah J. Tucker


Decentralising Loss in ‘Becoming Disabled’ by Oscar Sharples


Book review: Orwell, Roses and the Politics of Pleasure by Shikha Dwivedi


Exhibition review: Kudzanai-Violet Hwami at the Hayward Gallery by Maria Messias Mendes


Exhibition review: Who and What is Ai Weiwei? by Keval Nathwani


Poem: Zemestan by Maria Messias Mendes


Poem: Interval by Nica Franklin


Short story: The Stolen Mountain by Deepti Mary Minj


Short story: Daybreak by Lewis Russell

EDITORIAL On the Chronicle’s theme of transitions: the natural, the personal, and the societal.

Emma J. B. Sunesen Editor-in-Chief

Frida Bergman Politics Editor

Lewis Russel Arts Editor

All of the articles in this edition of the Chronicle seek to accentuate, in one way or another, the centrality of transitions within our lives; some natural, some personal, and some societal. While the ageing of our bodies remains an inevitable, naturally occurring transition in human life, the transition of the political status quo does not. All around the world we see people coming together to fight for political and societal change with blood, sweat and tears, and sometimes even with their lives. It serves as a reminder that the transitional steps we can take as individuals are inevitably constrained by the steps we take as a society. As Oscar Sharples’s article on gender transition in this issue demonstrates, the opportunity to transition to one’s gender in the UK is severely restricted by yearlong waiting lists and scrutinising interviews, something that is only solvable through a societal push for political change. While we may fervently pursue change in some areas of life, the past couple of years have reminded us all too vividly that not all transitions are welcome. As Covid-19 swept the globe, changing our every-day life in an instant, we were hit by the demotivating realisation that as individuals we’re often powerless in the face of global catastrophe. It brought to the fore the essentiality of our co-dependence; that, to recall John Donne’s enduring phrase, “no man is an island.” In today’s interdependent world, the neoliberal valorisation of the sovereign individual is eroded from underneath, as we realise that we must all partake in society to counter a catastrophe of such

magnitude. That our agency lies in numbers seems only to further deconstruct the neoliberal consensus and its privileging of unbridled individual freedom. As children of the 90’s, we are no strangers to the euphoric pronouncements of “the end of history”, such as that espoused by Fukuyama. Yet, the end of our ideological evolution seems to be moving further and further away from us, as neoliberalism is challenged from both the right and the left. We seem to be entering a new phase of liminality, as necessity demands a transition in our policies. Perhaps it is time to forego linear conceptions of history and instead accept its cyclicality and the transitions contained therein. While societal and political transitions may take centre-stage these days, personal transitions remain our life companion. From the start of a new career to the death of a parent, change appears to be one of the only constants in life. Yet, it would appear that our ritualisation of it has waned, with individuals experiencing a fluidity of change instead of clearly demarcated rites of passage. There was a time in human history when virtually all societies were firmly structured around moments of essential transition; when boys would leave the community to hunt alone for years in the wild, running with the wolves, before returning as men eligible for marriage. For young people today, however, it is less and less obvious precisely when and by what metrics they cease to be young and fully enter into adulthood. Of course, our freedom from the curtailing strictures which these societies

in the long term, than complete, unbridled freedom.” We see this clearly in Nica Franklin’s poem, where he uses lines of verse to arrest, for a moment, the ceaseless fluctuation of nature, each line reading as an allegory or symbol of the Heraclitean notion, panta rhei, “everything flows.” Reading through the magazine will hopefully provide a muchneeded break from the final transition of the academic year through which we all must progress: Easter exams. As you down your 5th cup of coffee before noon, and with sweaty, jittery palms throw away your


and rites of passage relied on for their functioning is something to be welcomed for most people. But is it possible to move too far in the other direction? For many, the lack of clear transitions complicates their sense of self. Not knowing what your next step in life should be, only that it is your decision to make, brings with it existential dread. As humans, we like a degree of structure, not least within the space of aesthetic representation. As Elijah J. Tucker notes in his reflection on transitions within film media, “limitations can sometimes be more beneficial,


pencil, frustrated that absolutely nothing flows, we hope the thought-provoking articles and beautiful pieces of art contained in this issue might re-ignite those few remaining brain-cells. Perhaps they’ll remind you of your own first day of school, or your transition from living at home to being at university, or they’ll pique your interests for the transitions that are yet to come. We’d like to thank all of our wonderful writers and illustrators, and hope you derive as much enjoyment from their work as we have had creating the magazine together.

Gender Transition




Living in Perpetual Gender Transition BY OSCAR SHARPLES

Gender transition is a complex, painful, and beautiful process. On top of facing transphobia from friends and family, trans people’s access to healthcare is relentlessly attacked, and we are increasingly used as topics for public ‘debate’. Even the luckiest of us face unthinkable violence & spend years on waiting lists with our mental health suffering as a result. Yet, transition is also the way that we find ourselves, become comfortable in our bodies, and build a family with one another. In this way, gender transition can be seen as a never-ending process of growth and discovery.


and all I wanted was for my body to feel safe. Many people don’t want to medically transition, and those that do all take their own paths. For some it’s puberty blockers, oestrogen pills, laser hair removal, facial feminisation surgery. For others, its peri-areola chest reconstruction, hysterectomy, phalloplasty. There is a long list of ways we try to make our lives that little bit easier to live. But although these treatments exist, we spend every day fighting systems that stand in our way of reaching them. Puberty blockers have been the focus of recent discussion. Even though the GIDS (Gender Identity Development Service) states that puberty blockers are a reversible treatment, they do come with risk: according to the NHS, it is not known whether hormone blockers affect the development of

y transition didn’t begin when I came out, when I started taking hormones, or when I had surgery. It began when I realised that my gender was mine. When I asked my primary school friends to call me George. When I forced myself into ‘boys-only’ football games. When I got called ‘he’ for the first time. It continued when I gave girlhood a try, finding it painful. It continued when I became a boy, a son, and a brother. A big part of my transition was medical. Years of gruelling and dehumanising referrals, waiting lists, and assessments. Having to act to gender services as a mature, stable, resilient person who knows exactly who they want to be — when, in reality, I was 14, had lost friends and family due to my gender, my mental illness was untreated,

“I was forced to put on a carefully calculated act of ‘unhappy with my body’ but ‘totally stable enough to receive treatment’”


structural expression of a disregard for trans lives that runs deep. We are misgendered, mocked, attacked, and shunned. We’re excluded from bathrooms, sports teams, and even our own families. Those that survive the waiting lists face NHS staff scrutinising their gender identities, family and

the teenage brain or children’s bones. On the other hand, studies such as that by Turban et al. in 2020 evidence that puberty blockers drastically reduce young people’s risk of suicide. The NHS Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) states that as of March 2022, they have 10,648 people on their waiting list, and are receiving an


friends. At every gender clinic and GP appointment, trans people’s identities are called into question. The length of time they’ve been out, their clothing, hairstyles, and mannerisms are totalled up, and if they don’t reach the clinic’s expectation of what a trans person should look like, they risk being denied treatment. This affects nonbinary and genderfluid people most harshly. We all wake up every day to news of people campaigning to abolish the medical transition facilities we do have. Trans youth face the brunt of this, as their capacity to consent to medical treatment is constantly called into question. This is despite the fact that the only treatment youth can access are hormone blockers, which essentially pause puberty, to give the child more time to explore their gender

average of 350 referrals a month. They are so far behind with these referrals, that they are currently offering first appointments to people referred in December 2017. People are waiting over 4 years without a single appointment, even though the NHS Constitution of 2021 sets out that patients should not wait longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to treatment. There are only 7 gender identity clinics across the whole of England, only one of which accepts referrals from under 17’s. Mixed with increasing demand and funding cuts, these waiting lists only continue to grow. Trans people are put at immense risk of self-harm and suicide during this time, and we are not strangers to losing loved ones to these waiting lists. Waiting time statistics are simply the 8

involved travelling to London every few months, where the staff would question my mum and myself about my gender presentation as a child, my sexuality, my relationship with my father, whether I wanted to have biological children, my mental health, my friendships, the list goes on. Although the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) acknowledges that untreated gender dysphoria causes anxiety and depression and thus many trans people struggle with their mental health, I was forced to put on a carefully calculated act of ‘unhappy with my body’ but ‘totally stable enough to receive treatment’. When I turned 17, I transferred to the Laurels adult gender identity clinic in Exeter. Just after I turned 18, I started hormone replacement therapy — my first treatment after four years of being under gender services. I received top surgery the year after.

identity. If the young person eventually decides to transition, they are saved from experiencing gruelling teenage years going through a puberty that causes gender dysphoria, depression, and often, risk of suicide. Furthermore, the NHS’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) advises that if, upon further thought, the young person decides not to transition, they can go off puberty blockers, and puberty will resume as normal. The risks that are associated with puberty blockers are therefore remarkably fewer than the risks attached to denying a young person the right to comfort in their own body. I was incredibly lucky that I only had to wait nine months for my first appointment at the Tavistock and Portman, the only clinic that provides healthcare for trans youth in the UK. Despite this amazing head start, the fight didn’t end with my first appointment. I was under the care of the Tavistock clinic for two years. This

3 types of medical transition procedures and their level of reversibility: According to the Gender Identity Development Service under the NHS, hormone blockers are a phsyically reversible procedure, stopping puberty temporarily, whereas gender affirming hormones (oestrogen or testosterone), cause lasting physical changes, such as breast development or deepening of the voice, and is therefore only a partially reversible procedure. Gender affirming surgey is a completely irreversible procedure.


My transition didn’t end when I came out, when I started taking hormones, or when I had surgery. It continues in the way I wear too many necklaces, and in my ridiculous Doctor Who earrings. In the monobrow I refuse to hide. In the way I make myself heard, in the way I proudly wear these scars on my chest, and in the man that I continue to become. My transition continues in the way I surround myself with those who are in a transition of their own, so that we may create the most beautiful people, together.

Medically transitioning was like finally having a migraine end and truly realising just how painful it had been. After six years of binding my chest — pulled muscles, torn skin, and bruised ribs — it was over. I got to watch a stranger’s face fade away in the mirror and be replaced with my own. It’s been nine months since I had top surgery and I can say with absolute certainty that I have lived more in these months than I did the previous nine years combined. I am so grateful for all the past versions of myself. There’s the boy, messy unbrushed hair down to his chin, sweaty from playing football all day. There’s the girl who tamed her hair in tight plaits and hid behind a band T-shirt. There’s the boy pained by the fact his body isn’t what he wants it to be. I wouldn’t exist without them. I’m grateful for the people who fought for me no matter what. For the healthcare I received. Because I am a success story. I am the culmination of new medical treatments and privilege and luck. My story is one of ease and security compared to the vast majority of trans people. I’ve had an accepting mother who has fought for me, and I live in a country that allows me to have hormone replacement therapy and surgery for free on the NHS, even though the wait is excruciating. If I had undergone the same process a few years later, at that four-year mark when I started Testosterone, I would only just be having my first appointment. I would encourage everyone to learn about the transitions of those who don’t have the advantages I have had. The people who lost their lives to these waiting lists. The people who have experienced unimaginable violence from strangers and loved ones. The people who can’t medically transition due to health conditions, and those who can’t access treatment in their own countries.


“Medically transitioning was like finally having a migraine end and truly realising just how painful it had been”




From absence to virtual presence:


Not only did the pandemic cause a loss of lives worldwide, it also took away our conventional means of honoring our deceased and paying our final respects. As funerals moved into the realm of the digital via Zoom and WhatsApp, the repercussions of our brutal confrontations with death forced us to reimagine our relationship with our own mortality, and ultimately with life itself.



ometimes, while lost in reverie, I aimlessly open my phone’s photo gallery. I scroll through a collection of colourful mundanities, representing my various foibles. There are photographs of friends and family I spent time with, of places I visited and the food I ate, of lecture notes and library books, of brewing coffee, setting suns, wildflowers, and things that I consider ‘aesthetic’ — things which constitute me and my life. Looking at them gives me solace and comfort. I keep scrolling, but then I suddenly freeze. On


my screen are photos of my dead grandpa who succumbed to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Captured to console the family members who couldn’t be with him at his funeral due to pandemic restrictions, this set of images are his last photographs, symbolising an end. They agitate and unsettle me every time I look at them. Perhaps because having an image of a dead loved one in my photo gallery is incongruent with my conception of what photographs are supposed to be — something that records things or moments I like(d) or need. Or perhaps because those photographs glaringly remind me

of death when all I want to do is to look at made the spectre of death strikingly images of chubby cats, before putting my visible to those left behind. As the phone under my pillow and falling asleep. second wave of the virus hit India in April 2021, crematoriums in northern parts That existential questions produce of the country got so overwhelmed that anxiety is not news; if we start to think hundreds of dead bodies were found about matters of death, overhanging floating in the Ganges. In São Paulo, risks, or catastrophic events we quickly cemeteries were exhumed to make space realise how small and out of control we for the soaring number of Covid deaths. are. To nonetheless find trust in the And in the UK, Boris Johnson allegedly continuance and order of everyday life is remarked, “Let the bodies pile high” what sociologist Anthony Giddens refers in response to the statistics showing to as ‘ontological security’1 in his 1991 Britain having the highest number of book, Modernity and Self-Identity. It Covid deaths in Europe, as stated in a is to possess at the unconscious level as 2021 article from the Guardian. These well as from tacit knowledge, ‘answers’ to incidents have brought death close to fundamental existential questions. This home. The pandemic has posed a threat to allows a ‘bracketing’ of one’s existence people’s health, lives, futures, as well as to within the chaos of uncertainty, which ways of being in general, accentuating the ‘filters out’ dangers that in principle sense of unpredictability and the fragility threaten the integrity of the self. Simplified of life. A psychological study published — to have meaning in life. Keeping one’s in 2021, conducted by Fiona Rupprecht biographical narrative going in a shared, et al., revealed that while the future time unproven and unprovable framework perspectives of people have decreased, of reality continuously, though their death anxiety has increased manifold paradoxically, proves one’s being and thus in the past two years. The illusion that prevents existential anxiety. Encounters one can have some control over one’s life with death however, can introduce an and future has diminished. Threat to the element of ontological insecurity as one is physical body has started posing a threat forced to confront existential questions. to our very conception of the world. If the shared framework of reality cannot account for the death — or the possibility Isn’t death a natural consequence of of death — it can lead to a questioning life? Then why is the realisation of one’s of that very framework. The bracketing own and others’ mortality so unnerving? of one’s existence is suspended. Phillipe Ariès argues in his 1982 book, Existential anxiety enters in full force. The Hour of Our Death, that Western modernity sees death as a taboo, Transcending national and international always keeping it under the rug. To be borders, the presence of death has human means to keep the knowledge become pervasive during the Covid-19 of death away for as long as possible. pandemic. Not only have more than six Although each culture has its own way million people lost their lives to the virus of conceptualising death and myriads globally, as I write, but in many countries, of traditions surrounding it continue to the government’s mismanagement has exist, the influence of Western modernity 1Originally

developed by psychiatrist R.D Laing, in his 1960’s book, ‘The Divided Self’


“The illusion that one can have some control over one’s life and future has diminished. Threat to the physical body has started posing a threat to our very conception of the world”


on these remains significant, creating a distinction between the pre-modern and the modern. Dominant modern ideologies like capitalism and socialism do not provide a guide to the afterlife like many pre-modern ideologies did. The focus is invariably on life — on the here and now. As Giddens points out, modernity is obsessed with the construction and expression of the self rather than with questions of existence and death. Most contemporary religions have historically provided an ontological framework for matters of life and death. Now, they focus more on what they can do for people in their lives than in their afterlives. The Scientific Revolution changed our perception of death from a divine decree to a technical problem. Medical science made tremendous progress, increasing the average global life expectancy from 40 to 72 years in the last two centuries. A heart which had stopped beating could now be resuscitated, opening doors to immense


possibilities. Humans no longer meekly submitted to death as they had done in the bygone days of the past. Sociologist Philip Mellor argues in a 1993 research article that what had hitherto been an intimate family and community experience now became a medical event, sequestered from the public gaze into the confines of hospitals. The seclusion of death from public space into the confined sphere of the hospital gave modern humans the illusion of control. Perhaps that is why its reappearance in personal spaces through increased media portrayal and direct encounters brings out a measure of ‘ontological insecurity’ — it disrupts our understanding of how things should be. What was already difficult has come forward with even more cruelty during the pandemic, overturning the way people reach the end of their lives. Owing to the insidious nature of the virus, the care of dying patients has been distorted. Public health restrictions have forced patients to

die alone. Their only human contact is with they’re mourning may be gone, but they the health care workers, who are shielded see that others are still here,” George by layers of masks, gloves and fear, as if the Bonanno, a clinical psychology professor dying patients not only have a contagion at Columbia University’s Teachers but are in fact contagions themselves. College said in a 2020 interview with Ramtin Arablouei, an NPR radio host The Atlantic. With Covid restrictions who lost his aged uncle to coronavirus in in place, they have been seeing no one. Tehran, recalls the experience in a 2020 article for The Atlantic: “The day my Or they have been. But behind a virtual uncle passed away, his son — my cousin screen with their faces partitioned into — rushed to the hospital. He had to look neat squares positioned next to each other. If nothing else, Zoom meetings at his father’s lifeless create a virtual body through a sense of proximity window, and watch “Zoom funerals have in grief. Among the them cart him away myriads of “Zoom gained immense like a stranger.” While many are traction in the pandemic this and that,” Zoom funerals have gained dying apart from immense traction in years, transforming their loved ones, the pandemic years, others are grieving not only how we had transforming not only apart. Families have how we had hitherto hitherto understood not only been denied understood life but visitations and final life but also death. Last also death. Last goodbyes but also are being goodbyes are being said goodbyes community rituals said on iPads and of mourning. For on iPads and funerals funerals are taking many cultures, death place on WhatsApp are taking place on rituals and grief used video calls. For many to be a collective WhatsApp video calls” mourning the death experience, until of a loved one, it the pandemic hit. With no opportunity to confront the has provided a sense of community and reality of the death and to honour the a space for collective grieving. In lieu of life of the deceased, the grieving process actual funerals, through video, grief can has become convoluted for those left at least be witnessed and thus shared, behind. Rituals associated with death allowing some proxy for the normal around the world are social processes and rituals of death. Inevitably however, there tend to take care of the bereaved. The are socio-cultural expectations for how presence of community acts powerfully death should be managed. Perhaps the in the meaning-making process of death inability to symbolically mark the demise for the bereaved family. “The person of a loved one through well-known


rituals creates a void difficult to fill. ceremonies are held in which people cover themselves in shrouds and imagine Although virtual grievings remain their own death, Lauren Vespoli reports unsatisfactory to many, most have in a 2020 piece for Insider. They virtually accepted it as the best possible option say final goodbyes to their loved ones and in these unusual times. Apart from see their photos disappearing behind the helping mourners comprehend their mist. For Lauren, who attended it once, loss, the digital tools and platforms are it was a space to reflect upon life. “When also creating memorabilia of the dead. the pandemic started, I started thinking What happens to those photos and videos about life insurance, and dying, in just stored in one’s phones and laptops? Do a very matter-of-fact way,” 36-year old the dead live amidst a jumble of ludicrous Daniel Bergfalk tells Lauren. Imagining “Good morning” images? Is it reducing his own funeral, he says, helped him the dignity of the dead? Do the dead go “throw myself into things I enjoy.” away along with the discarded iPad? Or Discussions about death, facilitated by become a byte in the hard-disk? This technology, seem to be helping people is not a novel concern. The camera re-integrate death into their lives, and has had a long relationship with death. perhaps also re-affirm their ontological To capture the transience of life for security. At the end, confrontation eternity, the Victorians, for instance, with and conversation about death proudly displayed the daguerreotypes momentarily re-introduces existential of their dead loved ones in their homes. anxiety, but also works to re-affirm Grieving relatives often posed with the ontological security as many pre-modern deceased who was dressed up before frameworks of reality have been ruptured. the photo session to look more “alive.” Although appearing macabre to modern What will happen when the pandemic sensibilities, these images not only becomes a memory of the past? Will we acted as what historian Pierre Nora in embrace the transience of life or become a 1989 article calls lieux de mémoire — more adamant to defeat death? Only sites of memory, but also as symbols of time will tell. I, for one, hope to create a mourning. They elicited self-reflection folder in my phone with photographs of on human mortality, keeping alive the my dead loved ones, and to look at them illusion of life and the reality of death. regularly without flinching. Perhaps then, instead of being an inconvenient As death permeates our contemporary truth that should remain conveniently virtual and real worlds, it has created hidden away, death would become newer meanings for many people. In another memory, another part of life many parts of the world, Death Cafes, — incorporated in a construed, shared where people gather to discuss their reality that relays what it means to be. mortality, have become popular during the pandemic. In one such discussion group in the US, virtual funeral





Sophia Fjuss traces her line of flight from growing up in Russia to studying and working in the West, and grapples with the strain this move has placed on her relationship with her parents. The memoir piece ends with an epilogue addressing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the impact it has had on Fjuss’s own identity, as someone with both Russian and Ukrainian heritage. 18

“There is something deeply excruciating

in a Russian soul. While our colleagues to the East and West compose life-assuring pieces, classical Russian literature is about the quiet dismay” The author wishes to remain anonymous and has therefore written under a pseudonym. The editorial team is familiar with her real identity.


remember my parents fighting: my mother wants them to finally get their own place, at least a 2 bedroom apartment in Moscow. She firmly believes it was my father’s duty to fulfil this wish. And my father... Well, he works continuously. He wants to save money and move to his mother’s town when he retires. They still rent, of course. She smokes all the time, my mother. Like so many other Russian women, still dreaming about some Soviet ideal of the well-exercised, powerful woman. She would probably deny this description of herself, though. Did you know the Soviets were the first to lift the ban on abortion? They were generally rather progressive with gender equality. There is something deeply excruciating in a Russian soul. While our colleagues to the East and West compose life-affirming pieces, classical Russian literature is about the quiet dismay. A great friend of mine feels trapped as a graduate student in the US because the Americans seem so shallow-minded to him, so devoid of deep philosophical suffering. But the suffering the Russians crave sometimes seems merely an excuse to complain; it is a coping mechanism, perhaps, for the greyness of the winter snow or the dust that envelops the capital in the summer. I remember enjoying the “why we are here” or “science has discovered everything” conversations; but 19

four times as much you do right now, mother, and almost as much as father, after just a few months of work. And my boyfriend is perfectly capable of ironing his own shirts or cooking when I ask, and the floor is cleaned by a robot. When I claim I am happy, she says the West has corrupted me. I find it funny how in my life, not a single man has tried to teach me how to live, it was always women. A man never told me to shave my legs; but my mother once tried to shave the hairs off a mole on my face while I slept. Ever woken up with a razor next to your eyes? And makeup. You know how boyfriends don’t really notice if you’re wearing it, and just tell you that you are beautiful even when you wake up early in the morning, all disheveled and covered in dreams? You can imagine my mother’s reaction is very different. There is a blessing in how the modern world works for international students. The society you live in shapes you, but some lucky individuals can choose the society to their liking. So, I choose to live three time zones away, in the country of rain which welcomed me for my talents. I am still suspicious of the quiet, cheerful existence here, where I can be productive and beautiful without the constant screaming. And every morning, I ask hesitantly, “Will it not one day go away?” But it hasn’t, so far.

then I realized, why not live actual life instead of sitting in a clumpy kitchen discussing it? I remember sitting like that with a friend in her parents’ kitchen: a sticky tablecloth, the howl of the teapot, and an endless philosophical discussion which serves no purpose but to make us feel smart. So that is why, perhaps, my mother tried to shape me into a perfect person; to oppose the misery of the rest of existence; the misery, I must say, which was quite superfluous, if not made up. Whenever I would fail to bring home perfect grades from school, she would scream. She likes to claim that the sight of me sprouting a few gray hairs made her stop, but it did not, and I still have to pluck them out of my head. One of her particular quirks is an obsession with weight: I should, according to her, weigh no more than 45 kilograms. When I returned to Moscow after more than a year abroad, she couldn’t bear the contrast of a few extra kilograms, and my audacious attitude of wanting her to not go through my things. So, she started screaming ten minutes after my arrival. For two hours. From 3 to 5 AM. It dawned on me then how a huge part of my identity was not my own, but hers. How she repeated to me that I should cook and clean for my boyfriends, or iron their shirts, and be as slim as a model, and always do my hair, do sports and vacuum, and dust my furniture every day. «Сидишь тут целыми днями в компьютере» (“You sit here all day on your computer”). But I earn


Epilogue “I wonder where the person who sang me lullabies has gone, or the docile child that I was to her: because now, in her eyes, I am merely a fat and unmotivated puppet of NATO” The former piece was written before the war. Lately, I wake up every morning anxious to check the news and find out how my relatives are doing on both sides of the conflict. It alienates me from home even more. Every neutral or pro-Ukrainian thought makes me a criminal according to Putin. Was it good, in a sense, that my mother pushed me away so quickly, if it allowed me to escape in time? Despite being half-Ukrainian herself, my mother quickly picked up the Russian propaganda. It is fiercely tempered by my father, but still shining through. I wonder where the person who sang me lullabies has gone, or the docile child that I was to her. Because now, in her eyes, I am merely a fat and unmotivated puppet of NATO. But despite the inexplicable toxicity of my relationship with her, I dread not being able to visit. I dread the Russian economy collapsing and falling on the already overloaded shoulders of my dear parents. It is very ironic that ordinary people like them have to answer for the crimes of their leaders. Especially when their only concern in life was making ends meet while giving me an education — and, as it turned out, seeing me off in the excruciating perfection that my mother imposed, only to ever be imperfect.




Does technological advancement necessarily bring with it experiential improvement? A closer look at the impact VHS technology had on the film-viewing experience, and what was lost with the transition to the DVD, might suggest otherwise.


ou might have been born too late to have watched your favourite childhood film on VHS, rewinding the reel manually until the production company logo appeared and the static cracked. By the time I die, I doubt I will have watched any film more times than I watched Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar (1994) on VHS, cross-legged on the floor of my grandmother’s living room. DVDs could never be so addictive: the jarring stops caused by two or three hair-line scratches can cause our suspended disbelief to come crashing down around our ears. As I renew my Amazon Prime and Netflix subscriptions, I am well aware that we live in a golden age of media where any film, book, or album lies at our fingertips, never more than a single mouse click away. And yet, many pine for the days when discovering new media felt more like a quest or an achievement; a time when trawling the local Blockbuster might yield nothing for weeks when suddenly — BAM! It’s your new favourite film; a horror classic, or an indie gem. This process of sifting was no doubt a chore, but a welcome one. The


same is true of the necessity of rewinding each tape for re-viewing, and these instances both point towards a trend which is apparent in the film-making process itself: just as we can derive enjoyment from the practical limitations inherent in the VHS format, the peaks in cinematic excellence have often been caused by technological limitation, rather than being hindered by it. Too often, our critical stance towards the impracticalities of an antiquated technology such as VHS can blind us to the charms found in bygone ways of doing things. The view that the transition from VHS to DVD was a clear-cut improvement is simplistic and precludes the idea that the formal limitations of VHS were some of its greatest strengths. We find a clear instance of this contradiction between limitation and improvement in the case of “pan and scan” — the technique of cropping the sides of a film frame to fit a given screen — which was heavily utilised for VHS. It entailed, in the most egregious instances, the removal of over 50% of the original shot. Even after the frame had been butchered thus, the remaining visible parts of the frame were often grainy, off-colour, or distorted, and

patches of darker colour often blurred into static. However, this is precisely why some films work better on VHS format; horror films, in particular. The intensity of Alien (1979), with its claustrophobic, nightmarish atmosphere and unfamiliar setting, is enhanced by the accidental qualities of VHS. In scenes where Ripley occupies the foreground but the background is darkened, current high-resolution, digital film formats allow us to clearly determine any possible threat; under layers of static, a reduced frame of focus caused by pan and scan, and muddied colours, we are far less certain about whether or not that shadowy corridor at the side of the frame contains a threat which our protagonist has not yet perceived. The fear-factor of the alien itself, ultimately just a latex suit, also benefited from this grainy muddiness. Visual imperfections and budgetary constraints were disguised by the technical flaws in VHS technology. Other cult classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Thing (1982) benefited from this same accidental improvement. Visual imperfections, rather than heightening a viewer’s awareness of their separation from the narrative, increased dramatic tension instead. Film has reinvented itself with each iteration of technology, and yet we still find ourselves drawn to the charms of earlier versions of the art form. It is a fallacy that improvements in visual quality necessarily correlate with an increase in audience enjoyment or

sentimental attachment: the intangible mystery of an unlabelled VHS tape cannot be matched by an infinite budget, or even by improvements in the medium itself, because these current excesses do not scratch that same itch. There can be no logical answer to a purely emotional phenomenon. As in the manner of dissecting a joke, we find that our improved knowledge of the film-making process and industry has ruined some of that magic. Our heightened cultural awareness of the film-making process is encapsulated in the idea of “The Making of….” featurettes available on the “Special Features” sections of DVD releases, something wholly foreign to the VHS model of distribution. Documentaries of this kind work to further demystify the aura of cinematic wonder which a VHS tape was capable of emanating, and seem to have led us to develop a 25

more cynical view of visual media as a result. Film is no longer a mystery to us: art must imitate life, and so the medium reacts to our awareness of it. Ironically, the blemishes and imperfections of VHS, which we might have expected to cripple our suspension of disbelief, did far less to ruin our experience than the attempts at adapting to these problems. We can now see too much, and we know too much about how we’re seeing it. We find, therefore, that films bereft of all technological and financial limitations become cynical, because we, the audience, are more cynical about them. The lesson we can learn from VHS, then, is that limitations can sometimes be more beneficial, in the long term, than complete, unbridled freedom.


The process of ‘becoming disabled’ is often framed as a tragedy of lost opportunities. It is understood as the possibility of a bountiful future closing off due to the effects of an accident or illness. But for many, the process is much more complicated, and often comes with a striking mixture of grief and joy. Disability can be a site of pain — but it can also be a site of freedom, self-acceptance, and community.


leave room for talking about disability with a sense of pride and celebration. There is no room for people like me who were born with their disabilities, but who didn’t always see them as such. It excludes many people, in fact, and it obscures how dynamic, diverse, and unpredictable disability can be. For this reason, I chose to interview a student with an experience quite different from mine, for whom ‘becoming’ disabled, was an incredibly difficult

isability is often spoken about as if it accompanies someone for their whole life or, conversely, is entirely absent. I don’t see a lot of recognition given to the processs of acquiring the label ‘disabled’, and the representation that I do see is almost always framed as a tragedy or a loss. This doesn’t


and painful process. They have co-occurring losing their mobility: “It’s really upsetting. Not because it’s a bad disabilities that impact their mental health, cognitive functioning, and their mobility. thing to be disabled, but just because if you’re They chose to remain anonymous, and so will born pretty much able-bodied and find yourself be referred to using a pseudonym; but having deteriorating day to day, it’s really difficult. It’s our experiences intertwined in this article will something that I have on my mind all the time.” Nevertheless, they want to disrupt the hopefully exemplify how diverse experiences narrative that disability is inherently negative: of disability can be. Chris expressed that: “Identifying as disabled is the only way I can “My disability didn’t impact me much justify self-care. I’ve always just put it aside, before and I was very active. I would wake up and be like, ‘I probably won’t be able to do but having that label and identifying with it these activities a year from now’ because my forces me to take a step back and evaluate how condition would deteriorate and that’s quite I’m feeling. It leads to a lot more self-reflection and kindness.” daunting to experience as a kid. It soon sunk in that I’ve experienced I was not going to be able- “Being disabled meant something similar myself: bodied much longer. Other that I wasn’t lying or lazy. using the language of kids would be doing rugby disability altered how many and clubs, whereas I would That I didn’t have to feel actions were framed to spend all my time at the myself and others. To call the shame of not living up doctors.” myself disabled didn’t feel Everyone arrives at to a standard that wasn’t like a shame or a loss. It felt disability in different ways like looking after myself. created with me in mind. and at different points in Being disabled meant that their life. Some people That I didn’t have to push I wasn’t lying or lazy. That feel that they have a lot of I didn’t have to feel the agency in their transition myself until I broke” shame of not living up to a to disability, and others standard that wasn’t created feel it to be incredibly dehumanising. For with me in mind. That I didn’t have to push me, becoming disabled involved giving myself myself until I broke. That I could ask for the permission to stop hiding my symptoms from accommodations I deserved. Understanding others, to the extent of neglecting my needs. that I was disabled meant that I didn’t need to For others, becoming disabled might involve apologise for who I was, and ultimately, that my losing their mobility, or their sight, or simply conditions affected me first and foremost. their freedom. The perceptions of the people around us can It’s taken a very long time for me to arrive drastically change how we view ourselves and at the label ‘disabled’. Only in the second half our disabilities. For me, identifying as disabled of 2021 did I begin to see myself as disabled. acts as a rebellion against the people who saw I’ve experienced a lot of privilege within my my disability as ‘my fault’. As my disabilities are own journey. I was born autistic, and autism invisible, this makes it easy for others to call my isn’t something that gets ‘better’ or ‘worse’ diagnoses into question. Often, our experience over time. This isn’t the case for many with with nondisabled people can make us attach degenerative conditions. a lot of shame to being disabled, although Chris described to me the experience of the form of invalidation we experience varies


as disabled has helped me with self-confidence and my self-care journey.” Disability can be a site of pain; not only from the symptoms or characteristics of the disabilities themselves, but also from the shame we feel (or are made to feel) about them. And disability can also be a source of celebration, and a means to find community. Every disabled person will experience these sides to disability in diverging and fluctuating quantities. For many people, ‘becoming disabled’ gives a name to the sum of all that pain and confusion and loss — and the hope that lies in the middle.

massively. For Chris, the fact that some of their disabilities are physical causes uniquely challenging experiences with others: “The little things that able-bodied people do to show that they’re not thinking about it makes it harder. It’s little things like inviting me somewhere but not taking the time to think about whether it’s accessible. Or when they don’t understand how traumatic doctors appointments can be. Or quickly parking in the disabled spot to get into the shop quickly. It tells me that they don’t respect disabled people.” Transitioning to see yourself under the ‘disabled’ umbrella gives many people the language to talk about the hard parts, and the good parts too. For me, autism doesn’t just mean overload, exhaustion, and feelings of isolation. It means the most beautiful friendships with other autistic people. It means the warmth and safety of familiar things. It means knowing I have limited words and choosing them carefully. It means becoming so invested in things I love that time stands still. Being disabled is one of my greatest strengths. Chris expressed that disability can be a source of pride and solidarity: “It’s made me focus on things I wouldn’t have known about before. I have a community of people that are understanding. Identifying





Section 6 of the United Kingdom’s Equality Act of 2010 states that one is considered disabled in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) if one suffers from either a physical or mental “impairment” that has a “substantial” impact on one’s capability to perform daily activities over a sustained period of time. According to this definition, a disability can be, among other things, a mental health condition, such as depression and anxiety, a physical health condition like chronic fatigue syndrom or diabetes, or a learning disorder like dyslexia, so long as the condition meets the requirements of having a substantial, long-term effect on day-to-day life. The EU adopts a similar definition of disability. In 2010 it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that a disability “(...) include[s] those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others,” as laid out in article 1. Subsequently, all EU member states have signed and ratified the convention. This means that these states should recognize learning disorders, mental health conditions, and physical impairments as disabilities, as long as they meet the criteria of having a long-term adverse impact on a person’s ability to participate on an equal footing in society.



Orwell, Roses and the Politics of Pleasure

By Shikha Dwivedi


In her new book, Orwell’s Roses (2021), Rebecca Solnit reveals an often overlooked aspect of George Orwell’s character as a man who took pleasure in the mundanity of everyday life, and in doing so upsets the political dichotomy that would seek to keep apart serious praxis from life’s little enjoyments.


orn in 1903 as Eric Blair, George Orwell was one of the most prolific writers and political journalists of the twentieth century. Claimed by people across political spectrums, his works, since their inception, have never ceased to loom large in our imaginations. However, that imagination is almost always associated with darkness — the epiphany of a dark present or the projection of a dark future. The word Orwellian, used to refer to totalitarian control, inversions of truth and other nightmarish visions of dystopia, has become so hackeyed that it has almost lost its meaning. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” is the kind of sentence through which we usually remember our Prophet of Doom. In this vision of hopelessness, Rebecca Solnit’s intervention in the form of Orwell’s Roses (2021) comes like the fragrance of a fresh rose that inspires one to imagine the possibility of another world. Although her book appears as a biography of Orwell at first glance, it transcends the giant literary figure and his political visions as one turns the pages. Like a dense bush of rose that grows unbridled through all the nooks and crannies, Solnit weaves a tale that enters into the vast realms of beauty, capitalism, climate change and many more things, while always coming back to

Orwell from unexpected vantage points. “In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses.” So begin all seven sections of Solnit’s long essay. She starts her journey at a small cottage in the English village of Wallingtonia, Hertfordshire, in search of roses that Orwell once planted there. Taking that fact as an entry point into Orwell’s personality, politics and his works, Solnit paints a fresh picture of him where he takes pleasure in the mundanity of everyday life. A majority of his books contain evocations of the English countryside and the pleasures of birdwatching, fishing, farming, among others. His diary, where he kept meticulous records of plants and animals around him, has entries like: “Flowers now in bloom in the garden: polyanthus, aubretia, scilla, grape hyacinth, oxalis, a few narcissi. Many daffodils in the field.” Instead of considering these records as being antithetical to Orwell’s political writings, Solnit argues that his search for joy in small things was intrinsic to both his political vision and his conception of freedom. Leftist politics, with which Orwell is often associated with, often takes a puritanical position where all forms of pleasure and beauty are considered callous, immoral and counterrevolutionary. “Flowers are bourgeois,” a woman wrote to Orwell in response to an article where he had praised roses as World War II was raging. Solnit is critical of such austerity, and asserts that it is the small, seemingly trivial things we do that give us strength for bigger battles. Orwell was planting roses in the

1930s when the world was in strife, and demanded a life beyond basic necessities he was in the thick of it. — “the right to live, not simply exist,” as However, Solnit is careful not to idealise the suffragist and labour union leader nature and its pleasures. She shows us the Rosa Schneiderman put it. However, I ‘softer’ side of Orwell but in the process wonder if that demand has been fulfilled politicises roses. She highlights the for all. Can everyone afford to look colonial roots of the impeccable British for the pleasure in beauty that Solnit gardens, the sham of “Englishness” portrays as a potential act of resistance? and the capitalist exploitation and From Plato to Lord Byron, discourses hideous working conditions on the granting significance to beauty in human rose plantations in Columbia that are life seem to have mostly come from those responsible for satisfying the floral at the privileged echelons of society. Is demands of American supermarkets. appreciation of beauty possible for the In doing so, she “wretched of the forcefully delineates earth?” Or are they that flowers can “Solnit provides a picture too trampled by the also be symbols of Orwell as a writer who is weight of survival of displacement, to look beyond not prophesying a terrible cultural imposition the shadows of the and the erasure of future for humanity (...) cave? certain histories In Solnit’s reading After all, we only plant a rose and identities. Of of Orwell’s magnum course, pleasure can when we have hope that there opus, Nineteen be a revolutionary Eighty-Four, beauty will be a future” act in a regime that and pleasure are seeks to crush our an integral part souls. But Solnit makes us aware that it of the protagonist Winston Smith’s might also mean partaking in capitalistic politics. Winston desperately tries to and other kinds of exploitations. In this hold on to tangible things around him way, Solnit’s Orwell becomes a point of in a context where the very existence entry to think about roses in a structural, of an external reality is denied by the socio-political manner. Party.Reiterations of “stones are hard, Yet roses too have been part of many water is wet, objects unsupported fall revolutions seeking to create a better towards the earth’s centre” themselves world, as Solnit brings to our attention. become a kind of political resistance — of “Bread for All, and Roses Too” was one refusing to see the world in the manner of the slogans of the women’s suffrage the regime demands of you. The frequent movement in the United States that was evocation of the “Golden Country” and later adopted by labour movements. It its meadows, sunlight and birdsong are

all imbued with a sense of freedom and hope for Winston — things he wants to preserve and fight for. In one of his essays which Solnit quotes, Orwell proposes that “the planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.” Solnit provides a picture of Orwell as a writer who is not prophesying a terrible future for humanity; rather, he is giving warnings, and thus, expressing possibilities. Although Solnit’s insistence on seeking beauty in small things does seem, perhaps naively, paradisiacal at

times, her deeply humanistic portrayal of Orwell provides hope for the future. After all, we only plant a rose when we have hope that there will be a future. Solnit’s book is an intellectual treat for anyone who enjoys following a labyrinth of sundry ideas with unexpected turns. Her writings too seem to be inspired by Orwell’s, as even the dismal tales have moments of beauty and the most charmingly-crafted passages have consequential elements in them. As she takes us through a whirlwind of stories, she too seems to be finding joy in creating them.


Collapsing Time and Space: Kudzanai-Violet Hwami at the Hayward Gallery Exhibition review by Maria Messias Mendes

Zimbwabean painter Kudzanai-Violet Hwami mixes form and imagery to give expression to diasporic experiences in the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Mixing It Up: Painting Today’ exhibition from last October.


t the end of 2021, the Hayward Gallery launched their exhibition, ‘Mixing It Up: Painting Today’, which received excellent reviews, including four stars from The Observer (“absorbing and dynamic”) and five from Time Out (“painting’s not just alive, it’s as essential as it’s ever been”). The Southbank Centre wanted this exhibition to “[celebrate] paintings that bring together diverse images and ideas,” and showcased 31 contemporary artists from around the world “who exploit the unique characteristics of their medium to create fresh, compelling works of art that speak to this moment.” The exhibited artists showed a great variety of explorations of multiplicity, raising questions and asking us to engage in conversations about issues we face today, such as representation, and whose story is told and by whom. Canvases become the playing ground for diverse forms to come together: photography, music, art history, cinema, design, etc. When visiting ‘Mixing It Up’, the three paintings by Zimbabwean-born and London-based artist Kudzanai-



Violet Hwami struck me the most forcefully: ‘Family Portrait’, ‘A theory on Adam’ and ‘Bira’. In line with the rest of the exhibition, her paintings invite viewers to discover the different meanings they contain, while raising questions about how these might change depending on the audience: as put by the curator, they “[draw] on the power of the medium to both transfix us and to undo our ingrained ways of seeing and thinking.” Hwami’s paintings explore identity as it is shaped and disrupted by diaspora and migration. This comes from her own experience: born in Gutu, Zimbabwe, Hwami also lived in South Africa before moving to the UK. She draws on this to examine themes of family, memory, belonging and alienation. Hwami’s large-scale canvases are palimpsestic artworks made with vivid colour palettes that portray distinct details of different locations. What is striking about these paintings is their nonlinearity, achieved through her use of collage. Different images and ideas are layered and set side by side. In ‘A theory on Adam’, the canvas is split in two and four and in the centre looms a maroon-feathered sun. In the upper-left quadrant, we have blue and greenshaded potted banana-plants. To the right there are two people hugging tightly. A beige background connects these two upper quadrants. Below, a man walks through a yellow background, towards a photograph of a man and a child. Over this journey, Hwami has painted a current of blackness that disrupts our perception and interrupts our interpretation, in a similar manner to how migration can cut through the life of a person. In this way, Hwami not only highlights the different elements of identity, moving from one to the other, but also shows how they overlap and interlink. This links into her aim: Hwami explains in an interview with the Hayward Gallery how “there is an entire community from the African Diaspora, seeking


merging with the face of the lower child. These tensions between colour, portraits and people lay bare the multiple temporalities Hwami has combined into a single painting. Which is the memory? Where are we? Who is who? Rather than give us answers, Hwami collapses both time and geography into a collage of indiscernibility. “I [am no longer] confined in a singular society,” she says, “but simultaneously I am experiencing Zimbabwe and South Africa and the UK, in my mind. I’m in the UK, but I carry those places with me everywhere I go”, as quoted in a 2020 interview with the Apollo. Hwami’s paintings are informed by this movement between places and across time. She thereby complicates ideas of family and home and allows us to witness identity as something unfixed and multifaceted. As she layers her subjects, captured in their most comfortable and intimate states, with vividly coloured patterns, shades of red, melting yellows and blues, her paintings whisper to us. They are “silent screams,” in Hwami’s words, telling us untold history.

home with one another. I hope the paintings I make are a place of rest and refuge.”

Drawing on this notion of cultural and geographical dislocation, the Victoria Miro gallery, where Hwami exhibited her art in 2021, described how “her paintings combine visual fragments from a myriad of sources such as online images and personal photographs, which collapse past and present.” This is particularly observable in ‘Family Portrait’: we, in essence, receive two portraits side by side, one in a naturalistic style, the other painted in the colours of a photographic negative. The central portrait is of a family of four, sitting side by side on a sofa. The other smaller portrait is of a woman with two children, one sitting on her lap, the other looking up at them from the ground; we intuit a sense of loss as these blue figures obtain a ghostly quality. These two images are starkly contrasted through vivid colour, yet closely linked. The light blue bleeds into the central portrait, covering the older child, whose face is obscured by scribbles. Their face seems to become part of the smaller portrait, almost 36

‘Ai Weiwei: The Liberty of Doubt’, An exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

WHO AND WHAT IS AI WEIWEI? Exhibition review bv keval nathwani

Ai Weiwei’s new, thought-provoking exhibition is a semiotic web whose strands stretch out into China’s classical past and the world’s imminent future. The artist’s work disrupts the dichotomy of artifice and authenticity and unsettles familiar notions about the relationship between art and politics in order to oppose arbitrary state power and its human costs.


ho and what is Ai Weiwei? An appropriately provocative question, and one which Ai Weiwei might himself find a challenge to answer. Though if I were to be so bold as to venture one myself, it would be this: that Ai Weiwei unites in his work the experiences of his past and his hopes for the future by challenging the politics of our present. This zeitgeist quality comes from his experiences as an artist and activist challenging and overcoming arbitrary power, in particular that of the Chinese state. His dominant philosophy of art is affirmed by his landmark work ‘Dropping A Han Dynasty Urn’ (1995), where he literally dropped a Han dynasty urn causing it to shatter beyond repair, thereby destroying an ancient artefact; an unsubtle reference 37

to and parody of Mao’s Great Proletarian Revolution of 1966-1976, which sought to preserve Chinese Communism by purging any evidence of China’s former imperial and capitalistic past. His justification for this act reveals much about himself and his art. From the creation of this work he rationalised that, “by shattering we can create a new form, a new way to look at what is valuable — how we decide what is valuable,” as stated in Weiwei-isms, a 2012 collection of his aphorisms. In this one seemingly destructive moment, Weiwei challenges what we understand to be valuable, what it means to create, and to destroy. This is the theme and the moment which dominates both the physical and mental imagery of Kettle’s Yard’s new exhibition,

second gallery by a section of items crafted by Ai Weiwei’s own studio. Many of these are common items made of highly valuable materials. For example the centre cabinet, itself a 20th century case from the British Museum, holds a Chinese takeaway box, toilet roll, a makeup and perfume set, and a builders hardhat all made of bright white marble. In this same case is an iPhone and a sex toy made of jade. Towards the back of the room are a series of Jingdezhen porcelain plates painted with scenes of recent migrant crises in a style imitative of Ming and Qing dynasty plates. In all of these works, Weiwei challenges front on and in no uncertain terms what it means to participate in a society, or at least to try, in a state where, in Weiwei’s own words, the government “do not believe in basic human values;” indeed, “the more clever and shrewd they are, the greater the tragedy they will create,” as quoted in Weiwei-isms. This second gallery is therefore, perhaps, the most thought provoking. It answers many of the questions about who Ai Weiwei is and what his art is about. In addition to these exhibits, films directed by Ai Weiwei are

‘Ai Weiwei: The Liberty of Doubt.’ Not least because this famous moment is recreated in three large monochrome murals made entirely of Lego. This short but deeply thought provoking exhibition primarily displays artefacts acquired by Ai Weiwei in an auction in Cambridge in 2020, some of which he has verified as genuine while others he has exposed as fake. True to the title and theme of this exhibition — ‘The Liberty of Doubt’ — the visitor is invited not only to ruminate on the potential validity of each item, dating from the Northern Wei (386-534 CE), but also to question why it might be worth including fakes in such an exhibition alongside authentic ancient Chinese artefacts. Answering this question is, in my view, a key aspect of this exhibition, and each visitor is thereby challenged to reappraise how they themselves perceive the value of the things they own, give, preserve and destroy in their own lives. These objects of antiquity are held in the first gallery and are predominated by statuesque figures of the Buddha and bodhisattvas. They are contrasted in the 38

we inhabit today as it stands before us, not to mention how we understand the powers that govern it. It seems a rather obvious point, but it takes a man like Ai Weiwei to remind us, in Weiwei-isms, that “the world is a sphere, there is no East or West.” Ultimately, ‘The Liberty to Doubt’ is an exhibition which elegantly and succinctly explores big questions and themes such as value, authenticity, ethics, and truth, and places them seamlessly in relation to the most recent crises of our times, in order to provoke us into rethinking the relationship between politics and art. It is not for nothing that the most famous of Ai Weiwei’s aphorisms is, “Everything is art. Everything is Politics.” Exemplifying this idea is the ultimate ambition of this wonderfully fulfilling exhibition in the heart of Cambridge, one not to be missed.

shown in the upstairs Ede Room, including Coronation (2020), Cockroach (2020) and Human Flow (2017). These films cover the student protests in Hong Kong and the global migration crises, as well as life in Wuhan at the onset of the pandemic. His art evinces a deep moral current running through his politics and his criticisms of the CCP; a window is therefore opened into the mind and heart of the artist and the man. Weiwei has been described, not unproblematically, as a “patriot” by L. Warsh and J. R. Allen, editors of Weiweiisms. But in justifying this epithet, they note that “he loves his native soil and he is willing to fight for its betterment.” In this exhibition, though perhaps rather more subtly in some places than usual, Ai Weiwei wants to show how his beloved China can be transformed, but notes that it cannot be an easy process. “Art is not an end,” reads one of his aphorisms, “but a beginning.” In a world that is either obsessed with the past or fearful about the future, Ai Weiwei’s work provides few solutions but instead forces us to invert all of our assumptions by challenging how we understand the world

‘Ai Weiwei: The Liberty of Doubt’ is running until June 19th 2022 at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge Photos courtesy of Jo Underhill



Broke away Evaporated into the air

Yet, you have lost much of your coating As it softened, unfroze and melted away

Your body moves continuously Under its own heaviness Accumulation of crystallised water As snowflakes fell Over years Over centuries You grew Denser and denser



Morning lingered in long on finger-grass tinged tintless, lengthening dew in creases there, frost scraps frilling loose earth they part from still.

a surface all seen at once begins with. The geese gone over. Cold orients only. Wind influenced little sound. Freeze’s deep whistle screens then, without hiss. Approaching its way inner ear into entrance.



Down right dirt water darted on, abandoned, abundant, a thing like








t the beginning of the documentary series Our Planet, David Attenborough remarks that the moon landing was the first time humankind was able to look back at the earth. Guriya also wanted to climb to the top of the most coveted mountain that stood in front of her house, with the purpose of looking back at her village. But the first morning that Guriya woke up after her return from the city, she found no mountain to climb. It was earlier than the city timings Guriya was used to waking up at. She owed this early rise to the biting mosquitoes and clucking chickens. The silence and absence of light pollution had, however, gifted her a peaceful sleep. When she had moved to the city, there was never complete darkness, not even when she closed her eyes. Behind the close lids, the light pollution would mix with eager darkness to show her the red, but never the black. That night Guriya slept undisturbed as the bats hunted the mosquitoes till morning. She missed the bats in the cities, where the mosquitoes would spike into her skin all night. Scratching the bumps from her mosquito bites, Guriya walked to open the main wooden door. She could not believe her eyes. She could not see the mountain in front of her house that used to surround the entire village so majestically. In that flashing moment, several anxieties took her over. Her village was no longer the same. There were several roads being built. Many mountains and hills along the way to the village had already been levelled, presenting a naked landscape. Five years ago, the bus journey of about 150 kilometres from the city of Ranchi to her village in Simdega consumed the entire day. When she arrived in her village the previous day, it was only a six hour journey. Yet, like before, there were only three stops for the passengers to relieve themselves and buy some sweet-sour-spicy snacks. Apart from the one big stop, the others hadn’t received any major renovation. When she got down at the first stop, she hoped that the grand reno43

vation of the petrol station would have also improved the lavatory facility. As a child when she travelled with her mother, her mother would guide Guriya to relieve themselves in the dense trees behind the facility instead of the crowded, dirty, and unsanitary lavatories. As Guriya and the other female passengers flocked to the lavatory across the road from where the bus had stopped, the approaching stink sunk in the despairing reality that little had changed. Guriya resorted to her mother’s trick of relieving herself in the trees behind the facility. But there was scarce vegetational cover. The trees had been cleared to add new pan-khaini, bidi-cigarette and some cold-drinks shops. Guriya was saddened that even the little that had changed, hadn’t changed for good. Along the route to her village, Guriya saw emptiness in the jungles. The widening of metallic roads had reduced the number of derailed lorries and buses that slowed the bus journeys. The roads to her village grew slimmer and curvier. The buses bumped with music and the music echoed in the valley, acting as a horn to the people, cattle, motorcyclists and other vehicles. The bus curved around the Hanthi Pahad, Elephant Mountain. As it moved further into the interior of the village, it appeared as if Guriya and the other passengers travelled from the elephant’s back, through to its hump and towards its trunk. Prior to the final stop, the bus finally arrived at Guriya’s stop, the market. Before setting off on a twenty-minute walk to her home, she decided to buy some sweets. She approached the lady vendor who was selling mudhi-ladho (sweet puffed-rice). The lady vendor recognised Guriya as a city girl from the denim trousers under her kurti. She asked Guriya if she would work in the village after serving as a “dhangar” in Delhi. Young girls were taken from her village to serve as maids (dhangar) in return for an education before they returned to their family. On her way back, Guriya was contemplating whether to continue working as a dhangar in the city or to work for a lower wage in the village. She reached her house before dusk and saw the mountain in its full glory. When Guriya was a girl, she enjoyed encouraging her herd of goats to graze on the leaves of sal, mahua and chilaunji 44

that grew on the mountain’s sides. The high branches were accessible through the rocks along the elevation. She preferred rearing goats to cows as their flexibility allowed them to reach difficult spaces. This trait of theirs assisted her love for exploration. Guriya started rearing cattle at ten years of age. Many remarkable events have marked her rearing trips to the mountains. On one occasion a lightning bolt struck dead five of her goats on the hill top. The entire atmosphere was filled by a blinding whiteness. She lost one of her favourite goats whom she had called Muniya. The sound of that thundering day would have shaken even the bravest heart. The villagers thought that they would never hear such a thing ever again. But a few years later, in the calmness of a spring afternoon, a loud thud was heard by the entire village. They were concerned about hearing such a thundering without seeing any lightning. Guriya and her friends were returning to the village with their heads laden with tree branches. They walked with quick paces and shouted at all the households and people that they passed, “Bijli nakhe... Bicha bicha! Badka machine jungle bate ped girat rahe,” “Its not the thunder-lightning... Pick, pick! There is a big machine that is cutting trees in the forest.” This was the early entry of timber companies into her village. It came without a warning. While the companies carried away logs of wood, the people were satisfied with collecting the remaining fallen twigs. They thought that their forest was too deep and dense for a few machines to harm. It took the villagers a few years to realise that they had underestimated the exploits of the companies. The forest cover was reducing. Guriya could not freely take her herds to graze now, as companies occupied a vast territory within the forest. She saw her forested mountain turning into a tussle site between the companies and government on the one hand, and the guerrilla military rebellion of the villagers on the other. But neither the companies nor the rebellion discouraged Guriya from wandering into the forest with her herd. One evening, she did not return till late in the evening. Her family grew concerned. She could have been taken by jungle-admi – as the villagers referred to the rebelling group – to recruit her. Else they feared that the company thekedars (contractors) would have given her over to the 45

police for trespassing into their territory. Her mother was being eaten with worry. She did not even set the hearth fire to cook. Her grandfather assured her mother of Guriya’s safety, and asked her to cook soon before darkness set, otherwise more danger would come. If cooking is done later on in the evening, then the blazing flame or even a hint of light will falsely alert the police of a possible gathering of the jungle-admi. The police would be of no help to the family but would only harass them more, and the jungle-admi would be more suspicious of the family if news of police coming to their house became known. In the dead silence of sunken hearts, a loud sound of the metallic latch beating against the wooden door was heard. Then followed the growing sound of bleating goats. The mother opened the door and clasped Guriya in her arms. Guriya told her that she was late because she had been searching for Ghumaiya, a goat that would often leisurely roam away from her. Her mother told Guriya that she herself was becoming like Ghumaiya. She sat Guriya down and told her, “The village is not safe like before. In our own homes, we feel like outsiders. They are the thieves, but we live like thieves: always cautious to not make too much noise, or to not be seen. It will be best for you, beti (daughter) that you go to the city.” Within a month, arrangements were made for Guriya to work as a maid in an officer’s house in Delhi. Guriya had now returned after a year. She has hidden her face in her palms. Balancing two buckets of water, the mother returned from the well. She enquired after the reason for Guriya’s morning sadness. Guriya looks at her mother and demands, “Where is the mountain? They stole the Hanthi Pahad overnight!” The mother chuckled at her daughter’s innocence and concern. She simply replied to Guriya, “maiya (little girl), the morning fog has hidden the mountain.”







he flourishing of the plants — strange thin things with many limbs and pink tips at their ends — had been sped up thousands of times so that they touched the screen’s edges in a second. Andy sipped his beer and watched. The dark room seemed to fall into the screen as the succession of plant life crawled furiously and flew into the air in front of him. A stuffy voice was talking over the top, detailing their genera, location, the animal life that fed on them, their symbiotic relation to the habitat. Andy didn’t hear a word. He just watched as the screen teemed with far-off colours and alien shapes, earthy revelations and ascendant activity. The camera burrowed into the soil and hastened along with beetles over translucent roots. It pulled back out of the jungle and the sky lit up, shining through the green beer bottle in front of his face. He took another sip. The credits rolled. He got up to get another beer from the kitchen, muting the TV so that it wouldn’t wake either Sophie or Jane when he opened the living room door to leave. They had managed to get Sophie to bed early, despite the buzzing excitement she had emitted all evening in anticipation of tomorrow. Jane had gone to bed at their usual time, but Andy hadn’t felt like sleeping. It was midnight now. He got the beer out of the fridge, plus a bowl of pasta and sauce that he then reheated in the microwave. As it whirred, he looked out of the kitchen windows onto the garden, roughly illumined by the light of the moon, which had waxed almost to fullness. He opened his beer and stared, the microwave’s hum drowning out the residual noises of the night that he suspected were nonetheless out there. In his imagination he saw the insects from the TV scuttling over the roots of plants, and remembered Sophie’s dig earlier in the day. Sophie liked to lift up the doormat in front of the Wendy house and examine the insects beneath. She called these, as well as investigations into other inhabited corners of the garden, her


“digs.” She would find golden centipedes, shining black beetles with ferocious faces, pale green spiders and dark silver millipedes, hidden beneath clumps of dirt, and come running into the house to report her findings. Andy was proud of her inquisitive nature, though it had disturbed him a little when she had started capturing the creatures in glasses and lining them up for display on a shelf in the kitchen. He had had to explain to her that it wasn’t right to keep animals captive in that way, though Jane had assured him that he was expecting too much from a four-year-old if he thought their ethical code would adequately extend to insects at such an early stage of development. Perhaps that was what tomorrow was all about, to start her on a path of edification, to bring her into the light, or something. He took his beer and pasta back into the living room. The next show had started. Mysterious music filled the room. “The ancients’ crucial proximity to the numen burdened them with heavy duties; duties, which were nonetheless necessary if the onslaughts of the void were to be kept at bay. In the great, endless struggle between order and chaos, theirs is the front-line position.” It was some sort of historical documentary. In the bottom-left of the screen was the word ‘Reconstruction’ in small type. White-robed figures bearing torches moved slowly through a dark woodland setting. “To properly fulfil its ritual function, sacrifice required a compliant victim.” The group reached a rampart overhanging a body of water, and parted to reveal a girl, her face painted in ochre and carmine with images of crops shifting in the breeze. Her robe depicted fields of wheat, fed by rain drops and flowing streams. Sapphire and emerald beads hung from golden thread around her neck and arms. She looked overwhelmed with happiness, already residing in the world beyond. There were other women in the group, whose eyes followed her as she made her way to the edge of the overhang, where it was her destiny to be transfigured into the divinity evoked by the ritual. She placed a weighted cord around her neck and jum-


ped through the water below. The camera stayed on the water as its surface settled, the easeful form of the girl quickly receding into the black depths. The reflection of the torches above slowly dissipated, and the shot transitioned into one of sunlit fields being tilled, people carrying produce between wooden huts. “The activity of the people at the time of earth’s sorrowing autumn was crucial if the sun were to retain its live-giving powers into the new year.” “Fucking freaks.” Andy reached across to the other end of the sofa to grab the remote and looked for something else to watch. He polished off the pasta and washed it down with the last of his beer before acquiescing to the futility of it all and switching the TV off. A car brushed through the air outside. Andy put the bowl and the empty bottle on the coffee table and went upstairs. He went quietly across the landing to Sophie’s room to check on her. She was sound asleep. The glow from the street lights fell on the corner of her bed. He tiptoed over to the window and lowered the blind to shut out the light, before making his way back to the door where, finding himself unable to leave, he turned to look at her again. He looked at her face and imagined it falling away from him into an icy darkness. A curved glass screen seemed to separate her from him, such that all he could do was watch her. How else could he help? What else did she need? He tried to think back to his own first day of school, but his mind was overcome by darkness. An hour passed, then another, and still Andy didn’t move, until the street lights went off and the grey hand of morning crept onto the window sill.


WANT TO BE PART OF THE CHRONICLE? Applications for section editors and staff writers will be advertised in Michaelmas term. A general call for submissions will follow once the theme for the next edition has been decided on! We are hoping to fill the role of next year’s Editor-in-Chief this Easter term. If you believe you possess the required editing acumen, or are keen to jump in at the deep end and learn as you go, please register your interest via email at If you have any questions regarding the role, do feel free to reach out to this year’s Editor-in-Chief, Emma J. B. Sunesen at