'On Their Own Terms’: Accessibility, Connectivity, and Mediation in Safdar Ahmed’s Villawood

  • Shannon Sandford (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Despite sustained global attention towards the plight and rights of marginalised peoples, refugees and asylum seekers remain largely on the margins of the public imaginary as subjects of aversion, erasure, and suspicion. In Australia, the unknowability of the foreign Other has sharp political dimensions borne out in the Pacific Solution and practices of mandatory detention that have since restricted public access to these voices and stories. This paper explores testimony about and by displaced peoples that enters mainstream consumption through webcomics, an interdisciplinary, experimental mode of life narrative that provokes new ways of thinking about accessibility, mediation, and representation in the contemporary moment. Webcomics that bring into focus the brutality of state power and the dehumanising conditions of detention are powerful rhetorical devices for visibility and interconnectivity that mobilise digital space and vast, digital audiences for the project of collectively witnessing experiences that may otherwise be concealed.

Safdar Ahmed’s Walkley-Award winning documentary webcomic, Villawood: Notes from an Immigration Detention Centre is one contribution to an emerging portfolio of webcomics that document the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers through frames of intimacy, identity, and affect. Published online in early 2015, Villawood visualises the lives and experiences of detainees in Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre with intent to reclaim their stories from the disempowering, silencing effects of mandatory detention. Analysing this work through the disciplinary lens of Life Writing prompts questions around access, connection, and connectivity that are endemic to the study of transnational literature and to reading webcomics as specific literary devices: how do we read and/or receive a story like Villawood? What implications arise by moving in and out of this work, which articulates deep intergenerational trauma and erasure, when its publication online prompts engagement that is highly public and visible?
Period22 Nov 2021
Event title4th IABA Asia-Pacific: Life Writing: Transnationalism, Translingualism, Transculturalism
Event typeConference
LocationAdelaide, AustraliaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational