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Imagine Otherwise: Ronak Kapadia on Resisting Imperial Visuality

Imagine Otherwise: Ronak Kapadia on Resisting Imperial Visuality

retro
October 5, 2016
Ronak Kapadia wearing a black button-down shirt, in front of bright green leaves

How is war felt through the body? Why are so many long-time antiwar and anticolonial activists turning to healing and body-based practices like acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, and somatics? And how can academics integrate decolonial feminist healing justice lessons into our classrooms and work spaces?

In episode 21 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach talks with guest Ronak Kapadia about how Middle East, Arab, and South Asian artists are using visual culture to critique US empire and the global war on terror, the relationship between social justice activism and ethnic studies/women’s studies scholarship, and self-care and community care as disability/healing justice ways to imagine otherwise.

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Guest: Ronak Kapadia

Ronak is an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies and affiliated faculty in global Asian studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Ronak is a cultural theorist of race, sex, and empire in the late 20th and early 21st century United States, and his forthcoming book Insurgent Aesthetics: Security and the Queer Life of the Forever War (which Ideas on Fire edited!) analyzes the interface between contemporary visual art and aesthetics and US global counterinsurgency warfare in South Asia and the Middle East.

He is co-editor of the forthcoming special issue of Surveillance and Society on race and surveillance with Katherine McKittrick and Simone Browne. His work also appears in the Asian American Literary ReviewSouth Asian DiasporaJournal of Popular Music Studies, and edited volumes including Shifting Borders: America and the Middle East/North AfricaCritical Ethnic Studies: A Reader, and With Stones in Our Hands: Reflections on Racism, Muslims and US Empire.

Outside of academia, Ronak is a former board member of FIERCE, a member-led community organization working to build the leadership and power of queer and trans youth of color in New York City and Sage Community Health Collective, a worker-owned health and healing justice collective in Chicago.

Ronak Kapadia wearing a black button-down shirt, in front of bright green leaves. Text reads: Our job is to identify and animate already-existing kernals of political possibility that exist in the here-and-now, to nourish them, to grow them, to expand them, to share them with others.

We chatted about

  • Ronak’s forthcoming book Insurgent Aesthetics, which traces “how contemporary visual artists have contested the violent projects of US empire and the global war on terror” (02:20)
  • Why it is useful to examine visual culture through other senses such as touch and hearing (04:45)
  • How war is felt through the body, and thus queer feminist criticism is vital to analyzing and critiquing it (09:23)
  • How social justice activism has shaped Ronak’s interdisciplinary scholarship in ethnic studies and women and gender studies (10:00)
  • Body-positive healing justice practices (13:06)
  • Self-care and community care as vital disability justice projects (16:22)
  • Ronak’s next book, The Art of Self-Care: Reimagining Collective Survival and Healing Justice in Imperial Decline (19:40)
  • Imagining otherwise (24:49)

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Takeaways

Why Arab, South Asian, and Middle Eastern artists are at the forefront of critiquing US empire

Our political imaginations have been impoverished by the prevailing ways in which we are forced to think about security, terrorism, militarism, and political violence in South Asia and the Middle East…And turning to these kinds of aesthetic and political practices of artists and cultural producers allows us to reimagine collective social lives otherwise.

Insurgent aesthetics

I think of this broader sense of insurgent aesthetic as making available new ways of knowing, sensing, feeling that were once thought to be unintelligible or unimaginable…I’m hoping that my analysis of these insurgent aesthetics from these immigrant and diasporic artists offers a moment of refreshment an opportunity to rethink anti-racist, anti-imperialist, queer feminist politics anew.

The role of the body in war

Queer feminist criticism is so crucial for studies of war and empire because it’s in the language of queer of color, transnational women of color feminist criticism that we start to think about the affective, the felt, the embodied.

Promiscuous interdisciplinarity

Many of the artists that I feature in the project are themselves activists, archivists, scholars—people who think promiscuously across those somewhat artificial boundaries between the realms of academia, art, and activism.

The activist return to the body

So many direct organizers, community activists, people who were on the front lines of political work in the early 2000’s have folded on that work and instead decided to go into traditional Chinese medicine, or somatics, or go back to acupuncture school, or are opening Cross Fit gyms [healing/ body work].

Freedom dreams

Freedom dreams of a more just and sustainable future are actually tied to a materialist critique of the present and the inequitable distribution of power, resources and life chances.

Imagining otherwise

I want that queer feminist anti-colonial, anti-racist anti-capitalist revolution. And the kinds of utopias that can be imagined from those worlds. A world devoid of systems of power and violence that destroy the life chances of the most vulnerable. A world without prisons and war. A world without poverty and ecological plunder where everyone has access to social wage because governments actually invest in people rather than profits. A world that fosters restorative and transformative modes of justice to deal with interpersonal conflict rather than policing and cages. A world where educators, artists, and activists are rewarded and heralded for their work.

More from Ronak Kapadia

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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    Transcript

    Cathy Hannabach (00:03):

    Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.

    Cathy Hannabach (00:23):

    Welcome to the Imagine Otherwise podcast, which is produced by Ideas On Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive interdisciplinary scholars write awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds. Today my guest is Ronak Kapadia.

    Cathy Hannabach (00:41):

    Ronak is an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies and affiliated faculty in global Asian studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ronak is a cultural theorist of race, sex, and empire in the late 20th and early 21st century United States. And his fantastic forthcoming book is called Insurgent Aesthetics: Race Security, and the Sensorial Life of Empire. In that book, he analyzes the interface between contemporary visual art and aesthetics and U.S. global counterinsurgency warfare in South Asia and the Middle East. He’s also co-editor of the forthcoming special issue of Surveillance in Society on race and surveillance with Katherine McKittrick and Simone Brown, who was our interview guests on episode nine of the Imagine Otherwise podcast.

    Cathy Hannabach (01:26):

    His work also appears in the Asian American Literary Review, South Asian Diaspora, Journal of Popular Music Studies, and several edited volumes including Shifting Borders: America in the Middle East/North Africa, Critical Ethnic Studies: A Reader, and With Stones in Our Hands: Reflections on Racism, Muslims, and U.S. Empire. Outside of academia, Ronak is a former board member of FIERCE, a member led community organization working to build the leadership and power of queer and trans youth of color in New York city, as well as the Sage Community Health Collective, a worker owned health and healing justice collective in Chicago.

    Cathy Hannabach (02:03):

    He’s here today to talk about interdisciplinary work, the relationship between activism and scholarship, and self care and community care as ways to imagine otherwise. So, thank you so much for being with us.

    Ronak Kapadia (02:18):

    Oh, my pleasure, Cathy. Thanks for having me.

    Cathy Hannabach (02:20):

    So, you are the author of a fantastic forthcoming book that I’m so excited about called the Insurgent Aesthetics: Race, Security, and the Sensorial Life of empire. What’s that book about?

    Ronak Kapadia (02:32):

    Yeah. So, thank you so much, first of all, Cathy, for having me. I’ve been really enjoying your podcast. I feel like you have your finger on the pulse of all the cool stuff that’s happening. So, I feel really honored to be included here in your list, in your lineup.

    Cathy Hannabach (02:49):

    Oh, that’s very sweet.

    Ronak Kapadia (02:50):

    And so, simply the book is about how contemporary visual artists have contested the violent projects of U.S. Empire and global war on terror. So, that’s one way of thinking about the project. But maybe a more expansive way is to say that the book tracks the post Cold War expansion of U.S. military empire in the Middle East and South Asia through an analysis of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian diaspora visual cultures and their critical intersections with the logics and tactics of U.S. counterinsurgency warfare.

    Ronak Kapadia (03:24):

    So, specifically I’m trying to shift the transnational study of U.S. War and empire by showing how dominant visions of security are being challenged and re-imagined by the very populations who are targeted for counterinsurgency warfare in the present. And, to that end, I try to turn to an ensemble of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian American visual artists and activists who are grappling with the projects of the U.S. national security state and its use of gender, racial violence, including issues related to torture, unlawful detention, targeted drone killings, CIA kidnapping and rendition, and biometric surveillance.

    Ronak Kapadia (04:04):

    And I think the main takeaway of the project is that our political imaginations have been impoverished by the prevailing ways in which we are forced to think about security, terrorism, militarism, and political violence in South Asia and the Middle East in the present. And that turning to these kinds of aesthetic and political practices of artists and cultural producers allows us to reimagine collective social life otherwise. So, very much in line with the title of your podcast to Imagine Otherwise, I’m really thinking about these aesthetic projects as giving us the sort of roadmap to imagine otherwise in the context of war, and security, and violence.

    Cathy Hannabach (04:43):

    That is a big project.

    Ronak Kapadia (04:45):

    Yes.

    Cathy Hannabach (04:47):

    And one of my favorite things about the book is, while it focuses on visual culture, aesthetics is in the title, the artists that you’re looking at, some of them do performance art, some of them do do visual art, some of them do paintings, photography. It kind of works across mediums.

    Ronak Kapadia (05:06):

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Cathy Hannabach (05:06):

    But you also do something really fascinating to visual culture, I think, is that look at it through other senses.

    Ronak Kapadia (05:16):

    Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s called a Sensorial Life of Empire. And part of what I’m definitely trying to get at is the way in which visual reality or the visual realm is central to war making and empire. And I really take my cues there from other post-colonial feminist critics, people like Ray Chow, and Karen Kaplan, and Judith Butler, and Paul Aurelio, and Nick [inaudible]. And I do want to show how, in particular, that aerial perspective is central to US global security regimes and how visual frames are crucial to the manufacturer and obliteration of target populations.

    Ronak Kapadia (05:53):

    But I’m also trying to shift or displace the overemphasis of visual culture in analysis of war making by attending to these lesser studied senses, including touch and sound. And so, one of my arguments here is that these what I’m calling extra visual sensory relations are newly vital to U.S. security governance, both as actual military weapons. And so, we can think of, for instance, the use of music in torture in Guantanamo or the emergence of something called touchless torture as a signature tactic of war making in this period.

    Ronak Kapadia (06:30):

    And also to think about how those senses and those sensory modes have become resources that support public cultures. So, let me just give you one sort of quick example of how this works in the context of the book. I’m looking specifically at the performance work of a New York city based Iraqi artist named Wafaa Bilal in the context of U.S. Aerial and drone strikes in Iraq and the Afghanistan, Pakistan borderlands. And Bilal, who is a professor at NYU of photography is probably best known for a 24 hour endurance performance piece in which he tattooed a borderless map of Iraq onto his back, and another one in which he surgically implanted a surveillance camera onto his skull for an entire year.

    Ronak Kapadia (07:18):

    So, I think that crucial force of Bilal’s work hinges primarily on the pain that he inflicts on his own body, especially his skin. And my readings of his work try to highlight the role of touch, of the tactile, of the haptic, of embodiment, and a fuller ensemble of the senses in theorizing the collateral damage of U.S. warfare. And, in turn, I think that reading of the senses generates a more expansive map in order to understand the violence brought by U.S. aerial surveillance wars in Iraq and, by extension, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond.

    Ronak Kapadia (07:55):

    So, I really think of this broader sense of insertion aesthetics as making available new ways of knowing, new ways of sensing, new ways of feeling that were once thought to be unintelligible or unimaginable. And I’m hoping that my analysis of these insurgent aesthetics from these immigrant and diaspora artists offers a kind of moment of refreshments, an opportunity to rethink anti-racist, anti-imperialist, queer, feminist politics, anew perhaps. Yeah?

    Cathy Hannabach (08:27):

    Yeah.

    Ronak Kapadia (08:27):

    Yeah.

    Cathy Hannabach (08:28):

    It reminds me a lot of… so, one of the other I think upcoming guests on the podcast is Wazhmah Osman who is a filmmaker and has this really fantastic film called Postcards From Tora Bora where she returns to her childhood home of Kabul, Afghanistan almost 20 years after her family fled. And she talks a lot about kind of, in making that film, she’s dealing with these literal fragments of family history.

    Ronak Kapadia (09:01):

    Right.

    Cathy Hannabach (09:01):

    That are sensorial in this kind of intense and yet also very diffuse, and complicated, and fragmented way. So, I mean, it seems like a lot of what war does, and perhaps always has. But we have different kinds of representations of it now, is that it’s felt through the body in kind of complex ways. Right?

    Ronak Kapadia (09:26):

    Absolutely. And I think this is why queer and feminist criticism is so crucial for studies of war and empire. Because it’s really in the language of queer of color, transnational women of color, feminist criticism that we start to think about, yeah, effective, right, the felt, the embodied. That attention to the body and its sensory states is something that is really prioritized in queer and feminist inquiry. And so, I’m trying to bring that body of knowledge to bear on a study of racial governance, the racial state, warfare, and empire. Yeah.

    Cathy Hannabach (10:01):

    Yeah. So, among your many projects as a professor, as a scholar, you’ve also done a lot of activists work in queer and feminist of color organizations. You’ve sat on the board of FIERCE in New York and the Sage Community Health Collective in Chicago. I’d love to hear a little bit more about what those particular organizations do and how you see your work, your kind of activist work with them and other organizations shaping your scholarship, or perhaps vice versa.

    Ronak Kapadia (10:33):

    Yeah. No. That’s such an important question. Thank you. I’m happy to spotlight the work of these two organizations and also recognize that they are a part of a broader constellation of left radical activist movements in the contemporary period.

    Ronak Kapadia (10:46):

    So, first, FIERCE, your listeners might know, is a member led community organization working to build the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth of color in New York City. It was founded really in the late ’90s, early 2000s moment. And Fierce is perhaps best known for campaigns around anti-gentrification, around anti-police violence and anti police brutality, and really foregrounding and lifting up the visions, tactics, spirits, and creativity of low income and poor people, queer and trans youth of color in particular, and lower Manhattan. And that work is, of course, transformed over the last 15 years. And Fierce is part, as I said, of a constellation of New York City based queer and trans organizations that are really centering issues of social and economic justice.

    Ronak Kapadia (11:36):

    They’re also part of the Rights of the City Alliance. And they have recently moved to the South Bronx after being displaced out of Chelsea and their office space most recently. And so, the work is definitely going to take on a different tenor as they think about organizing in the Bronx for the first time, after many years in lower Manhattan. So, FIERCE continues to exist and continues to do really interesting work. There’s lots of people associated with that organization.

    Ronak Kapadia (12:03):

    And then, Sage, unfortunately Sage has just recently closed as of March. But it was a feminist worker owned health and healing justice collective in Chicago run by a group of women, most especially most recently by Tanuja Jagernauth, who is somebody you should also talk to, who is an Indo-Caribbean healer and writer based in Chicago. She’s also a mentee of one of your podcasts interviewees, Minal Hajratwala, who is also a good friend of mine.

    Cathy Hannabach (12:32):

    Oh, great. Small world, right?

    Ronak Kapadia (12:35):

    Well, big world, let’s say big world.

    Cathy Hannabach (12:37):

    Exactly.

    Ronak Kapadia (12:38):

    Because these people are doing really expansive work. And what I love about Sage is that, in addition to being a site for healing services, acupuncture, somatics, bodywork, massage, it was also this really interesting site for political consciousness raising amongst Chicagoans to think about prison and police abolition, to think about anti-black racist organizing for non-black people of color in the city, to really foreground trauma informed body positive healing justice practices. And so, Tanuja is definitely on the forefront of thinking of that kind of work here in Chicago. And, as you know, Chicago is really an epicenter of amazing, vibrant, multi-issue, multi-sector organizing, not only in the movement for black lives and responses and resistance to police violence in the city, but just really expansively across the board in queer and trans issues, feminist issues, the undocumented immigrant justice movement.

    Ronak Kapadia (13:37):

    So, I feel like Chicago has been an amazing laboratory, in a sense, to think about what movement culture looks like in 2016. It’s non Vanguardist in a sense. And, in the way that sometimes the Bay and Brooklyn sometimes feel, the kind of work that’s happening in Chicago is definitely rooted in communities and has long histories that are really exciting to learn about. So, I’m definitely excited about both of those organizations.

    Ronak Kapadia (14:05):

    And, to your question about how does this all relate or connect back to the research, that’s a big question. And I think what I would definitely say is that the left radical tradition that these particular groups are part of deeply informs my own project and the political stakes of my own research. And I really do think that the insertion aesthetics that I’m trying to document in the book draw on activist traditions and social movements, whether that’s prison abolition, or immigrant justice organizing, anti-war activism, women of color feminism and black liberation. All of these movements that, of course, predate the war on terror and stem from earlier encounters with U.S. military security and penal regimes. And I think I’ll also note that many of the artists that I feature in the project are themselves activists, archivists, scholars, people who think promiscuously across those somewhat artificial boundaries between the realms of academia, art, and activism.

    Cathy Hannabach (15:08):

    Thinking promiscuously across those boundaries. I love that phrase.

    Ronak Kapadia (15:12):

    Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that the silos that we create… when we think about interdisciplinary work in the academy, for instance, we spent so much time talking about the arbitrary colonial structures of knowledge that produce these silos, whether those be ethnic studies on the one hand, gender and women’s studies over there, and that, if you think about the food groups within ethnic studies. And so, I think it’s important for us to sort of break down those boundaries and also foreground, and foster, and nourish spaces that seem in line with those kinds of politics.

    Ronak Kapadia (15:48):

    And so, I feel really grateful in Chicago, for instance, that the department that I’m in, gender and women’s studies, is a hub for intersectional feminist practice. Almost everybody, all of my colleagues, senior colleagues, are involved in activist, intellectual, and political work that is overlapping, that is multi-issue, that’s intersectional. And so, it’s a no brainer. It’s almost like the air that we breathe to think about how those three realms that are really the topic of your podcast intersect and overlap in complex and compelling ways. Yeah.

    Cathy Hannabach (16:21):

    Yeah. I think this brings me kind of nicely to a question I wanted to ask about kind of how we juggle all of that. Right? And, as those of us who do a lot of progressive work in our communities, or neighborhoods, service work on campus, these things add up, right? And they can get overwhelming. And it’s good work. It’s work we believe in. It’s why we do it. It’s part of that world that we’re trying to build collectively with each other. But it’s also really tiring. It’s a lot of emotional labor, a lot of political labor, and labor that marginalized communities disproportionately are called upon to provide. Right?

    Ronak Kapadia (17:03):

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Cathy Hannabach (17:04):

    And I’m curious to hear from you about how you navigate or how communities you’re a part of navigate this kind of need for individual self care with this broader need for collective or community care to avoid burning out, especially when the work is so important.

    Ronak Kapadia (17:24):

    Absolutely. This is really the heart of the question. I’m so glad you’re asking me this and that we get a chance to talk about this because it’s definitely something that I think about every day, partially because my body forces me to think about this question every day. And I really do think about health, wellbeing, creativity, what kinds of environments are conducive to those issues and to those concepts. And I want to answer this question maybe in two ways.

    Ronak Kapadia (17:50):

    The first, just on a basic, mundane, kind of personal level. I think I was just joking on Facebook this morning about how, every time I learn how to say no or I think I’ve effectively learned how to say no to something in order to protect my heart, or soul, or time, a new challenge emerges.

    Cathy Hannabach (18:08):

    Of course. Of course.

    Ronak Kapadia (18:09):

    Of course, right? So, I’m still learning how to do that. I do definitely take my cues from disability justice activists, for sure, who have taught me and others really about how to push back around narratives of capacity and the narratives of always being on, right? And how to slow down, how to take breaks. I’m very pro naps. I’m very pro dancing, and spas, and getting into one’s body, and finding times to unwind in all of those ways that are really important that are not just private times, but actually can also be collective, collective forms of care on a mundane level.

    Ronak Kapadia (18:47):

    I also take my cues from disability justice activists who talk not of FOMO, which we all know about, the fear of missing out, whether that’s rallies and protests, or art openings and galleries, but JOMO right, the joy of missing out.

    Cathy Hannabach (19:04):

    Oh, I love that.

    Ronak Kapadia (19:04):

    Yeah. So, JOMO right. What does it mean to imagine other ways of engaging with social worlds, creating those social worlds, but without being able to be physically present, either because our bodies don’t allow us to be physically present, or because we are taxed, or because we have family and childcare responsibilities, right, and so on. And so, a more expansive understanding of what it means to be engaged in the political, I think, is really crucial. And disability justice activists have definitely been paving the road for decades around that question.

    Ronak Kapadia (19:36):

    But then, the notion of community care is something that I’m actually… I don’t know if you knew this, I don’t think you did, but that my second book project that I’m just starting to work on is actually very much about this question. It’s called-

    Cathy Hannabach (19:49):

    Oh. I had no idea.

    Ronak Kapadia (19:50):

    Yeah.

    Cathy Hannabach (19:50):

    That’s great.

    Ronak Kapadia (19:52):

    My joke title right now, but maybe it’ll end up becoming the real title is, The Art of Self Care: Re-imagining Collective Survival and Healing Justice in Imperial Decline. And I think the backdrop of this question, this research question is, why is it that so many direct organizers, community activists, people who were on the front lines of political work in the early 2000s, let’s say, have folded on that work, and instead decided to go into traditional Chinese medicine, or into somatics, or go back to acupuncture school, or are opening CrossFit gyms, or are trying to think about their body, and care, and longevity in these other terms, right? We know so much about activist burnout. Why is there this movement suddenly towards these alternative healing modalities? That’s definitely one question I have, one research question that I’m trying to think about.

    Ronak Kapadia (20:45):

    And the other thing I’m trying to put together is the emergence of what we could really call decolonial feminist healing justice movements, right? And specifically, in Chicago, my research is looking at the nexus of responses, activist responses to the militarization of urban police violence and the sort of broader domestic reverberations of the global war on terror in Chicago.

    Ronak Kapadia (21:12):

    And so, a lot of attention has been placed in Chicago related to this, so called, black site of Homan Square, which was a police headquarters on the far west side of the city that was known, for many years, as a site of police torture and interrogation. And there’ve been many exposes recently in the last couple of years looking at this particular site as a so-called domestic black site. And, since the protests and organizing in Ferguson and beyond, we’ve been thinking a lot about the domestic ends of Homeland Security and the ways in which Homeland Security have bled into local police departments through the adoption of drones, through the adoption of all of these kinds of militarized technologies that are now amping up and revving up police forces across the country.

    Ronak Kapadia (21:59):

    And so, part of what I’m interested in and trying to understand is, how does restorative and transformative justice operate in this new context in which we see the aggrandizement of Homeland Security and of the War on Terror at home? How does that connect with a long history of people’s responses to the domestic ends of counterinsurgency amongst black and other people of color movements throughout the mid 20th century? How do people think about healing justice in the context of all of this?

    Ronak Kapadia (22:31):

    So, these are all sort of open ended questions that I’m grasping at and trying to put in conversation with each other. But I’m really hoping that the project will document the kinds of critical and imaginative responses people have to the level of state violence on the level of the body and the kinds of alternative models of coalition that these violent projects are in gendering among diverse political communities.

    Ronak Kapadia (22:55):

    And so, if the first book project is about the security of the nation, right, national security, the national security state, the second project, I’m hoping, will be about the security of the body, the security of the community. How do we really actually redefine security in a way that’s hopeful, that’s just, that’s sustainable. So, I’m kind of rambling here, but these are sort of some of the things that I’m starting to think about for the second project that I’m calling The Art of Self Care.

    Cathy Hannabach (23:23):

    I’m very excited to see that project. I think a lot of a lot of individuals and a lot of communities are going to be anticipating that heavily.

    Ronak Kapadia (23:33):

    I’m just learning. I feel like I’m reading new literature. And it’s just in that exciting moment where you start to finish one project, as you know, and start to move on to something else. It feels very shiny, and fresh, and exciting. And it’s like I want answers to those questions for my own life, for my own formation and growth. And so, I’m excited to see how it kind of unfolds over the next couple of years.

    Cathy Hannabach (23:56):

    Those often wind up being the best books, right? Like we write the… what is that phrase? We write the books that we want to read.

    Ronak Kapadia (24:03):

    Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I certainly feel that way about the first one. And I’m still definitely in it and I’m still excited about a lot of the concepts, partly because it’s about art and expressing culture, and it’s hard not to be excited about that archive, as you know.

    Cathy Hannabach (24:18):

    Sure.

    Ronak Kapadia (24:18):

    Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

    Cathy Hannabach (24:22):

    So, this brings me to my favorite question that I get to ask people. And, in many ways, your work itself is the answer to it. But this question is about your version of a better world, that world that you’re working towards when you write your scholarship, when you do your activist work, when you explore how communities are taking care of themselves and each other. What’s the world that you’re working towards? What’s the world that you want?

    Ronak Kapadia (24:49):

    Yeah. Oh, this is the heart of it all, isn’t it? I really love this question. I love that. I love the kinds of responses people have had on your podcast in the past. And I guess what I would say is, and this will not surprise you perhaps, but I want that clear feminist, anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist revolution and the kinds of utopias that can be imagined from those worlds.

    Ronak Kapadia (25:14):

    So, a world devoid of systems of power and violence that destroy the life chances of the most vulnerable. A world without prisons and war. A world without poverty and ecological plunder where everyone has access to a social wage because governments actually invest in people rather than profits, right, that phrase. A world that fosters restorative and transformative modes of justice to deal with interpersonal conflict, rather than policing and cages. A world where educators, artists, activists are rewarded and heralded for their work rather than punished for their labors and visions.

    Ronak Kapadia (25:51):

    And, to be honest, I think that those freedom dreams of a more just and sustainable future are actually tied to a materialist critique of the present, right, and of the inequitable distribution of power, resources, and life chances. That phrase that I’ve stolen from many of my mentors that I use in the classroom all the time, right, the inequitable distribution of power, resources, and life chances.

    Ronak Kapadia (26:14):

    In that sense, I think I really do also take my cues from my late mentor Jose Esteban Munoz, who talked about cruising utopia, right, and the then and there of queer security. Which was really a kind of concrete utopian thinking for him. It was inspired by the Frankfurt School and Ernst Bloch. For others, it can be on another body of literature, another body of scholarship or thinking. But that future utopian thinking is always tied to a materialist critique of the present. And that part of our job as educators, as writers, as organizers, as artists, is to identify and animate already existing kernels of political possibility that exist in the here and now, right? To nourish them, to grow them, to expand them, to share them with others.

    Ronak Kapadia (27:10):

    And so, I feel like I’m always on a hunt for identifying those kernels of political possibility as they exist in the world around me, in the communities that I care about. And then, I want to foster them and nourish them so that we can get to that revolution.

    Cathy Hannabach (27:26):

    I think that’s a fantastic place to end on. Thank you so much for being with us.

    Ronak Kapadia (27:31):

    Well, thank you, Cathy. It’s my pleasure. I really appreciate it.

    Cathy Hannabach (27:37):

    Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Be sure to check out our website at imagineotherwise.com to listen to full episodes, read show notes, and see links to the people, books, and projects discussed on the show. You can also subscribe to us on iTunes.

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