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Webiar Series 1 - Talk 1

Spring Webinar Series:
Border Deaths in Online Graphic Life Narrative: Graphic Thanatopoetics and the Carceral Spaces of Australian Asylum Detention

Date: 5 April 2024 (Friday)

Time: 3 PM CET  (10 PM HKT)
Border Deaths in Online Graphic Life Narrative: Graphic Thanatopoetics and the Carceral Spaces of Australian Asylum Detention
Speaker: Olga Michael (Independent Scholar, Cyprus)



‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ has been presented in Australian State discourses as aiming to combat people smuggling and death in the seas surrounding the country. In this context, the Department of Home Affairs published ‘No Way,’ a webcomic attempting to deter asylum seekers from irregularly entering Australia through a rather aggressive and hostile language that foregrounds the weaponization and lethal impact of the sea on the precarious lives of those who attempt to enter Australia without official documentation, thus ‘unburdening’ the State from the responsibility of border deaths. The violent governmentality of irregular migration has also led to the creation of offshore detention centres in the Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru, which are otherwise known as Black Sites, and within the borders of Australia, as that of Villawood in Sidney. Death occurring at these sites remains mostly invisible, similarly to those responsible for it.  In this presentation, I explore the potential of lifting border deaths from the invisibility of Black Sites, as well as for accountability and justice demands, in selected webcomics by Safdar Ahmed, an Australian artist and academic, and Eaten Fish (Ali Dorani), an Iranian refugee, who was detained in Manus Island, and has secured asylum in Norway. I argue that their webcomics constitute a counter-discourse to the governmental rhetoric of ‘No Way’ and a significant segment of alternative reportage on invisible crimes in Australia’s asylum detention system. My analysis focuses on the rhetorical function of the spectres of the dead in graphic life narratives existing in online spaces. 

About the speaker:

Olga Michael is an independent scholar based in Cyprus. She has recently completed her monograph, Human Rights in Graphic Life Narrative: Reading and Witnessing Violations of the ‘Other’ in Anglophone Works during her postdoctoral research fellowship (2020-2022) in the English Studies department at the University of Cyprus. She has written chapters for The Palgrave Handbook of Testimony and Culture (eds. Sara Jones and Roger Woods, 2023), Representations of 21st Century Migration into Europe (eds. Nelson González-Ortega and Ana Belén Martínez García, 2022) and Autofiction in English (ed. Hywel Dix, 2018) and her articles have appeared in journals such as The Journal of Perpetrator ResearchStudies in Twentieth and Twenty-First-Century Literature, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, Life WritingJournal of Graphic Novels and Comics and ImageText.

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