Sarah Arens on ‘Decolonising the Atomium: Diasporic Writing in Brussels’

Today we welcomed second year doctoral student Sarah Arens across from the French department of the University of Edinburgh. Sarah’s paper was fascinating and sparked a lot of discussion, as well as quite a few new strands of thought in this writer’s head. Focusing on the work of novelist Mina Oualdlhadj, this paper sought to explore how Brussels is portrayed and viewed by the Moroccan diaspora living there, and in turn how that ethnic group is viewed by others. Oualdlhadj’s 2008 book, Ti T’Appelles Aïcha, Pas Jouzifine (You’re Called Aisha, Not Josephine)was used to examine the key themes of ‘other’, space, and gender – this was primarily done through focusing on the Atomium and the hammam (a Moroccan bath-house).

The Atomium, Brussels

The Atomium, Brussels

The Atomium is an interesting focal point. It has a history of juxtapositioning the coloniser with the colonised, the modern with the not, or the dominant with the other (as seen by its creation for the 1958 World’s Fair, as a celebration of peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the same Fair which had a human zoo filled with colonial Congolese villagers), and therefore was a great image to have in mind when discussing the meeting (or clashing) of cultures.

The paper generated plenty of questions, which ranged in topic from the rupture and trauma caused by geographical displacement, to the Western idealisation of female-only spaces such as the Hammam, and the subversive elements of renaming spaces. Sarah’s responses to the comments and questions added a lot to a thoroughly fascinating talk, and I’m sure we all learnt a lot from it.

Thank you to Sarah, and to all the LLC staff and students who joined us in HCA.

Please join us again in a fortnight (17th March) when Kimberley Sherman will be joining us from St Andrews. Kimberley will be speaking on ‘A family affair: Kinship networks and Scottish emigration in colonial North Carolina’. All are welcome, 1pm in G16 of the William Robertson Wing, Tuesday 17th March.

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