- Gender, Authenticity, and Diasporic Identities in Adebayo’s Moj of the Antarctic and Iizuka’s 36 Views
As feminist scholarship has well established, gender does not exist independently; instead, it is a category that comes into being through its multiple intersections with ethnicity, nation, sexuality, and other identities. For this reason, it is particularly important to examine diasporic women’s negotiations of identity, and the multiple categories and oppressions under which they live. Mojisola Adebayo’s 2006 play Moj of the Antarctic: An African Odyssey and Naomi Iizuka’s 2002 play 36 Views both make significant contributions to the drama of women in the diaspora, but neither has been given the scholarly attention one might expect. Moreover, despite their different national and cultural focuses, these plays bear a number of striking similarities. They use similar theatrical techniques to explore diasporic women’s experiences and the vast variety of ways that women in the diaspora use diverse literary and artistic traditions to renegotiate their identities.
As part of this negotiation, both plays portray women who subversively and self-reflexively reimagine women of the past, and both plays consistently emphasize the inauthenticity of these imagined pasts. Furthermore, the plays suggest that engaging with women of the past can be a catalyst for diasporic women to reexamine their own identities and desires in ways that challenge the intersection of oppressions that Black British and Asian American women face. Thus, this inauthenticity does not diminish the relevance of these women of the past to modern diasporic identities. To the contrary, it is precisely by foregrounding the inauthenticity of the women of the past that these plays reveal the complexities of the [End Page 191] intersections of gender, diaspora, and sexuality. Drawing on Nira Yuval-Davis’s work on diaspora and the politics of belonging and Katie King’s work on the co-constitution of past and present, I argue that both plays exemplify the political potential of inauthentic reimaginings of women of the past. These plays reimagine women of the distant past in ways that undermine the desire for authenticity and direct access to history; in doing so, they offer a reconceptualization of the relationship between past and present that draws attention to, rather than erases, diasporic women’s multiple identifications.
Diasporic Identity as Textual Odyssey
Moj of the Antarctic: An African Odyssey is a one-woman show in which the actor-playwright plays a character called Moj, named after the author herself. The play was first performed to strong reviews in November 2006 at the Lyric Hammersmith in London, directed by Sheron Wrey, and was later performed at the Oval House Theatre and Queer Up North, as well as on a British Council tour of Southern Africa, all with Adebayo as the solo performer. Moj begins the play as a slave in the antebellum American South, and then proceeds to take a series of journeys to various corners of the Atlantic Ocean in search of her freedom and, arguably, her identity. The lone performer also plays the roles of the characters Moj interacts with, as well as a griot character called The Ancient, who begins, ends, and comments on the play. Using multimedia and engaging audience participation, the play shows the experiences and resonances of its various shifting characters, all the while weaving into the dialogue quotes from Herman Melville, Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Ernest Shackleton, John Milton, and many others.1
Moj’s narrative begins while she is working as a slave; she is tasked mostly with housekeeping, a position she obtained because she is also the daughter of the slave owner. Moj develops a loving but forbidden sexual relationship with another slave, a woman named May. May was illegally taught to read by a previous owner, and as their relationship develops, she teaches Moj to read and to love literature, thus spurring in Moj both intellectual and sexual awakenings. Moj proceeds to quote and occasionally mock the words of famous authors in her father’s library and [End Page 192] also to write erotic and romantic poems to May, interacting with literary traditions in ways that are often playful or even subversive. When Moj’s father (and legal...