👀 Your Ticket to Ladyland
#14 | An actual utopia
I know its Monday today, but you’ve got to pack your bags and join me on a trip.
We’re off to Ladyland, a place ruled by women with the aid of advanced tech (airborne cars, farming without human labour etc.), where men are locked away behind purdah. Ladyland exists in a story written in 1905, by Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a feminist thinker, writer and reformer. She published an English story called ‘Sultana’s Dream’ in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine, depicting a feminist utopia.
Turning her own reality upside down, Hossain created a world where women were scientists and leaders building and sustaining a society using solar energy and manipulating the climate for agriculture and industry. In this world, there was no crime (because men were locked away), and truth and love prevailed as religion. This short story is considered to be one of the earliest examples of feminist science fiction.
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Ladyland isn’t real (too bad), but courtesy of artist Afrah Shafiq, we get to experience our own version of Sultana’s Dream.
Shafiq explored archives with materials from colonial-era Bengal at the Centre for Studies in Social Science, Kolkata, India. She found images – ranging from paintings to matchbox labels, lithographs, photographs, oleographs, Kalighat paintings and other folk art – depicting women in various moods. Engaged in leisure activities, laughing and talking with their friends, resting in their friends’ laps, reading books, gazing outside windows or at their own reflections in the mirror, lost in thought by rivers and ponds. These women were living vibrant lives despite societal restrictions.
The images ultimately found their way into Shafiq’s immersive multimedia art project, ‘Sultana’s Reality’, inspired by ‘Sultana’s Dream’. Shafiq’s web-story incorporates animated videos and images from the archive, gifs, comics, musical numbers and graphics, telling the tale of women’s education in India, examining the complex interconnected relationships between women, and their relationships with leisure, literacy, patriarchy and the state.
Sakhawat and Shafiq might inspire you to concoct your own feminist utopia (Lord knows we need more of those) – you never know!