Séminaire Suzanne Scafe (London South Bank University)

Séminaire le 17 octobre à 18h, salle 126, site Saint-Charles

Performing Race, Gender and Freedom:
Mojisola Adebayo’s Moj of the Antarctic: an African Odyssey (2008) and Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860).

Although the name Ellen Craft does not appear in the title of Mojisolo Adebayo’s Moj of the Antarctic: an African Odyssey, Adebayo’s one-woman performance was developed, she has said, as a way of recovering the remarkable story of Ellen Craft’s escape from slavery. In this presentation, I argue that Adebayo’s performance constructs a complex relationship with an already complex narrative. It wrests Ellen Craft from her husband’s text but, rather than using the performance to present William’s ‘Ellen’ with an interiority his narrative scarcely offers her, it reconstitutes and relocates her within Adebayo’s own autobiographical narrative. Central to both texts – the slave narrative and Adebayo’s performance – is the concept of identity as embodied performance: both exploit concepts gendered and racial passing in order to expose the constructedness of race and gender and to subvert the ideological underpinning of the institution of slavery. Both texts use and problematize history’s exclusions; both transgress multiple borders, and in the process subvert expectations of what constitutes an authentic self.  Although Ellen Craft’s life is illuminated in this work, Adebayo’s is not a mimetic biography: rather, this is a figurative, first person auto/biography of Ellen Craft, a “call and response” production (Bowen, 1984), originating in an “intimate, somatic engagement with the body of another” (Pineau, 2003: 41-3), while reflecting simultaneously the bodies of multiple others.  Devised in dialogue with the Crafts’ text and with the traditions of nineteenth-century slave narratives in which it is situated, this work addresses black women’s absence in nineteenth-century histories. I demonstrate that through its dense intertextuality, it self-consciously mirrors and exploits the genre’s instabilities and performative strategies, constructing new forms of African diasporic subjectivity and establishing and strengthening ties to a lost or misrepresented past.


Dans la mesure du possible, merci de visionner cette vidéo avant la tenue du séminaire : Moj of the Antarctic: an African Odyssey (available on Vimeo) https://vimeo.com/78667311


Suzanne Scafe is an Associate Professor in Caribbean and Postcolonial Literatures at London South Bank University. She has published several essays on Black British writing and culture and Caribbean women’s fiction. Her recent work includes essays on Black British women’s autobiographical writing, published in the journals Changing English (17:2), Women: A Cultural Review (20:4), Life Writing (10:2) and for The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Writing (2016). She is co-author (with Donatella Maraschin) of the chapter, 'Re-mapping Women's Testimonies into Networked  Subjectivities: The Quipu Project' (2016), which looks at the role of testimony in a range of media outputs created to raise awareness of practices of forced sterilization in Peru. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays, I Am Black/White/Yellow: The Black Body in Europe (2007); two Special issues of Feminist Review, Creolization and Affect (2013) and Black British Feminism (2014) and a Special Issue on Caribbean Women’s short fiction for the journal Short Fiction in Theory and Practice (2016). Suzanne Scafe is the Principal Investigator for an Arts and Humanities Council (UK) Research Network grant entitled African-Caribbean Women’s Mobility and Self-Fashioning in Post-Diaspora Contexts. The Network is co-hosted by the University of the West Indies, Mona Jamaica and the University of Toronto, Canada.

This presentation is taken from research that will contribute to a Special Issue of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature entitled ‘Postcolonial Biographies’.