About Borders, Bodies, Homes

Welcome to the second issue of Rejoinder, an online journal published by the Institute for Research on Women at Rutgers in partnership with The Feminist Art Project. This issue explores how borders and bodies shape our understandings of selfhood, exile, and home. We asked contributors to consider the relationship between these concepts in the context of an environment marked by migratory population flows, resurgent nationalisms, and state-sanctioned violence. As you will see, the essays, artwork, and fiction we present explore the intricacies of these dynamic relationships from different vantage points.

Jeffrey Shandler’s article discusses the haunting photography of Yishay Garbasz, whose work is as beautiful as it is transgressive. He juxtaposes her serene representations of contentious political borders with her artistic renditions of the boundaries of memory and gender, including images of her gender transition from male to female. “Garbasz compels us to contemplate a larger unseen, “ Shandler writes,  “the hatred and fear, the danger, whether real or imagined, that we all live with, that has been pushed out of view, lurking somewhere behind a boundary.”

Animosity is on full display in Helena Zeweri’s account of Operation Sovereign Borders, a government campaign intended to prevent asylum seekers from taking refuge in Australia with a tagline of “No Way: You Will not Make Australia Home.” Zeweri argues that Australia’s offshore detention regime upends the teleological assumption that asylum seekers landing in a new country will encounter a better life. Instead she suggests that arrival at the Australian shore “simultaneously marks the asylum seeker’s exclusion from the territorial polity and inclusion into a relationship of strict surveillance, control, and systematic disenfranchisement by the state.”

Strong women are the protagonists of the next two essays in this issue of Rejoinder. Leigh Johnson’s interpretation of Ken Loach’s film Bread and Roses focuses on the lead character, Maya, who crosses the border from Mexico and ends up organizing a union drive as part of a Justice for Janitors campaign in California. According to Johnson, Maya “moves independently through the world, and … attempts to dictate her gendered behavior on her own terms.” She remains lucky and unscathed by trouble even when it is of her own making. Although she is ultimately deported, Johnson asserts that “the audience knows Maya will be fine; she’s plucky, crafty, outspoken, and self-assured.”

Rachida Yassine’s essay analyzes the autobiography of the Arab-American writer Fay Afaf Kanafani, who refers to herself in the third person as Nadia. Born in British Mandate Palestine but repeatedly forced to relocate, Nadia develops a feminist—and political—consciousness as she grapples with issues from sexual abuse and arranged marriage to the Israeli occupation. Yassine argues that Nadia’s eventual empowerment is the result of “both literal and metaphorical border crossings.” Kanafani’s autobiography constitutes “a literary account of how a woman rebels against the patriarchal rules which dictate that her position within and duties toward the family precede her rights as an individual.”

Essays by Joshua Adair and by Vukasin Nedeljkovic address the concept of home in contrasting ways. Adair describes his experiences with the politics of homemaking in a small, Southern university town where, as part of a same-sex couple, he challenges the status quo and unsettles neighbors, even attracting the attention of the Ku Klux Klan. Adair and his partner devote their energies to renovating a 1925 Craftsman, recognizing that as openly gay men, “the idea of home and the refuge and respite it affords figures most prominently in our ability to survive, nay flourish, in a world hostile to our existence and often indifferent to our destruction.”

Vukasin Nedeljkovic’s work originates from his own experiences as an asylum seeker in Ireland. While living in a Direct Provision Centre, he used photography and other art forms to document his encounters with exile and displacement, a practice that helped him survive this unique form of incarceration. He subsequently initiated the development of Asylum Archive, a “repository of asylum experiences and artefacts” designed to help others understand the distinctive experiences of asylum seekers and enable collaboration between scholars, artists, and activists.

Fiction and artwork help complete this issue of Rejoinder. Uddipana Goswami’s lyrical short story draws on folk tales to raise compelling questions about state violence, resilience, and the borders of the self. Connie Freid’s paintings of refugees speak powerfully to our theme. Elinor Meeks’ mixed media works reveal that we are “exposed via our bodies even as they represent the boundaries of our innermost selves—where we are most essentially at home.”

We thank all our contributors and everyone else who helped make this issue of Rejoinder possible. We hope you enjoy it. Please subscribe (it is free!) in order not to miss out on future issues.

Sarah Tobias