Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses

South Asian Solarpunk

Juwairiyyah Wali
Tuesday 16th April, 2024 Posted by Juwairiyyah Wali

At this year's festival we'll be joined by Birmingham-based artist Seema Mattu, exploring, amongst other things, how the Solarpunk genre can uncover utopian possibilities for South Asian diasporas in the UK.

Flatpack Project Administrator and co-founder of Birmingham's Radical Exhibition Collective Juwairiyyah Wali reflects on the connections between Solarpunk and South Asian futurisms.

Defining Solarpunk

As we find ourselves buried beneath the hopelessness of late stage capitalism and navigating colonial traumas, Solarpunk emerges as an aesthetic and ideological resistance across artistic mediums - a resistance to the idea that capitalism and colonialism are too stubbornly embedded in our societies to budge. Solarpunk ties together humanity’s relationship to the earth with the utopian possibilities of economic and social justice, creating space for us to explore new ways of living beyond the bleak options currently being handed to us.

Although both embody a rebellious spirit through their similar ‘punk’ suffix, Solarpunk is often seen as the younger and more optimistic sibling of the more widely known and dystopian Cyberpunk. By centering imagination and creativity, Solarpunk explores the realm of possibility through the futuristic, the technological and the ecological, while maintaining a practical and solution-orientated stance.

Arising in the late 2000s, the genre first stemmed from literary work that came under the umbrella of speculative fiction and has since been expanded upon in various Solarpunk manifestos. What I’ve learned personally is that to define Solarpunk is to get lost down a deep rabbit hole. Its multifaceted approach has allowed me to turn over a new leaf of research every time I google it - and I’m sure that will continue to be the case for a good while.

South Asian Futurisms

How then, does Solarpunk intersect with the possibility of new South Asian futurisms?

South Asian futurisms is a growing body of artistic work and a decolonial alternative to Western approaches to the science fiction genre, in which futurist realities imagine post racial, white-dominated and cynical worlds. Instead, South Asian futurisms point to “indigenizing” (Khalid, 2024) - the science fiction genre exploring how technological advancement can be aligned with indigenous cultural traditions.

Crucially, curator Sadaf Paddar (2023) highlights the heterogeneity within South Asian futurisms and references “Dalit futurism, Subaltern futurism, Queer Muslim futurism, eco-futurism and Sufi Sci-Fi futurism” in their presentation of South Asian futurist work. Through recognising the intersections within the genre, Paddar eliminates scope to homogenise South Asian past, present and futures whilst exploring how futurism can tackle culturally specific injustices, such as caste oppression and religious marginalisation.

Recognising the success of the Afrofuturist genre is so important here, producing vast amounts of artistic outputs that have allowed Black diasporas across the world to engage in liberatory discourse through its futuristic lens. Afrofuturism and South Asian futurisms work in tandem with one another, both challenging dominant modes of a colonially coded, white-washed science fiction genre.

Solarpunk and the South Asian Imagination

Acting as a branch off of South Asian futurisms and in a similar vein to Afrofuturism, Solarpunk has the potential for South Asian world building. Our connection to the earth and indigenous naturalistic traditions leans harmoniously into Solarpunk visions of the future. We can use Solarpunk aesthetics and ideologies to carve out hopeful futures for South Asian diasporas, dismantling oppressive capitalist and colonial ties and broadening the gap between conventional Western depictions of futurism.

As the body of work within South Asian futurisms grows, rather than categorising artistic expressions within the limitations of genre, there is an opportunity to use Solarpunk as a mode to assess futuristic work in relation to depicting conversations around ecological, social, political, and economic justice amongst South Asian diasporas, imagining possible utopias.

During Flatpack Festival we'll explore these themes further in relation to the work of Seema Mattu, a Valmiki world-building trickster, whose multi-channel practice is framed as a theme park - known as SEEMAWORLD.

"I’m particularly interested in both Cyberpunk and Solarpunk - where Cyberpunk speaks more to a dystopian realm whilst Solarpunk hints at utopian possibilities through the intersection of nature and technology.

In relation to my work, the essence of nature has multiple meanings. In one way, it’s the visual amalgamations of environmental terrain that take shape through 3D mixed-media animation. In another way, nature grounds the themes and context of my practice in indigeneity and authenticity - examining native ways of being.

SEEMAWORLD itself is a self-generating archive. The organic evolution of performance, movement, imagery and sound design within it fosters a Solarpunk approach but also goes beyond what a utopian South Asian future might look like - but rather how it might feel."

  • Seema Mattu

South Asian Solarpunk will take place as part of Flatpack Festival on the 15th of May from 20.30 to 21.30 at Pan-Pan, Digbeth.

Further Reading

In Search of Inclusive South Asian Futurisms - Sadaf Padder

What is Solarpunk? - Andrew Sage and Wei Wu (Shado)

A Solarpunk Manifesto: Turning Imaginary into Reality - William Joseph Gillam

Imagining a desi future - Ryan A. D’Souza

Navigating Native Slipstream and Indigenous Futurism: Upending Western Tropes in Pakistani Speculative Art - Zafrah Khalid

All images are stills from Seema's short film a song and dance about a song and dance (2003).

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