Digital Aunties

Bimbola Akinbola

Working at the intersection of performance, visual culture, and literature, Bimbola Akinbola’s scholarly and creative work is concerned with conceptions of belonging and queer worldmaking in African diasporic cultural production. Akinbola is currently working on her first book manuscript, which examines the creative work of contemporary Nigerian diasporic women artists whose work, she argues, strategically utilizes disbelonging as a critical tool and strategy for queer worldmaking.

In addition to her scholarly work, Akinbola is a practicing visual artist and has worked on a number of performance-based projects exploring Blackness, memory, and erasure in collaboration with dance companies, universities, and independent choreographers across the U.S. Akinbola is Assistant Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. She received her PhD in 2018 from the University of Maryland, College Park and was Northwestern’s 2018-2020 Black Performing Arts Postdoctoral Fellow.

Sandamini Ranwalage

Sandamini Ranwalage is a doctoral student in English Literature at Miami University, Ohio. Her primary research interests are intersections of Postcolonial Studies, Theatre and Performance Studies and Diasporic Studies. Her recent work explores the interconnections between nostalgic embodied performances and ethnonationalism with a specific focus on Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan diaspora. She has previously worked on gendered nationalism and politics of performance spaces.

Diasporic Aunties and Heteropatriarchal Ethnonationalism

I explore how the South Asian Auntie figure is able to performatively archive transnational feminist and queer intimacies. To this end, I closely read the Sri Lankan actress Nimmi Harasgama’s performance “Auntie Netta” as one that reconciles the contradictions in the figure of auntie. Auntie Netta do represent the typical inquisitive and judgmental woman of South Asian Popular Culture largely shaped by heteronormative domesticity. Interestingly however, Netta’s diasporic identity, her conversations with friends via Skype, and those with her queer, Sri Lankan American niece are particularly subversive in how they embody queer transnational relations. Furthermore, Netta’s supposed belief in all religions and the seeming ability to speak the three main languages in Sri Lanka along with her unabashed display of sexuality work against the ethnonationalist politics that bleed into the popular Sri Lankan diasporic subjecthood. (17:38)


Performing African Aunties on Tik Tok

On the video sharing app Tik Tok, the “african aunties” hashtag has over 6 million views. In this multimedia presentation, I examinee how African women and girls embody and perform the African auntie on Tik Tok, focusing on three types of videos: Deprecating auntie performances, celebratory auntie performances, and re-staged encounters with aunties. Specifically analyzing videos created by and/or featuring African women and girls, I argue that these content creators practice disbelonging by embracing the personal and cultural importance of their African aunties, while explicitly rejecting the forms of gendered surveillance, discipline and shame that shape their day to day lives. I contend that by performing with, as, and against the auntie, these content creators reclaim their culture on their own terms and act out fantasy scenarios that for many would be risky in real life. (13:14)

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