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Nakedness and Power

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Best American Series” are widely bought and gifted in my extended family – Rachel usually receives the Best American Poetry, while I tend to be given the Best American Travel Writing. Mom gets the Mystery and Essays books, while Dad gets Sportswriting. So when I stumbled on The Best American Comics 2006, it wasn’t a hard decision to bring it home.

Detail from “Nakedness and Power”

The first piece in the collection to catch my eye is “Nakedness and Power“, by Seth Tobocman, Terisa Turner, and Leigh Brownhill, which originally appeared in World War 3 Illustrated, a “semiannual political comix magazine,” which declares its mission as “to shine a little reality on the fantasy world of the American kleptocracy.” Dr. Turner is a professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph and writes extensively about oil and people’s movements – she’s one of the founders of the International Oil Working Group and co-authored a paper with Leigh Brownhill titled “Why women are at war with Chevron“.

The “Nakedness and Power” comic is a visualization of some of the arguments made in the paper, illustrated by Seth Tobocman (the founder of the World War 3 Illustrated series) in a stark, sharp black and white style. It explores a technique used in both Kenya’s struggles against Daniel Arap Moi and in the Niger Delta against multinational oil companies: the ability of African women to shame African men by removing their clothes and exposing themselves. From the second page of the comic:

To some Africans it is a powerful curse for a woman to expose her vagina to a man who has made her angry. The weapon of nakedness is said to cause impotence, madness or death. It is a source of lifelong shame for a man to be confronted in this way. This curse is based on the idea that women are the creators and sustainers of life and so have the power to revoke the lives of offending males.

The comic outlines some of the background of the conflicts over oil development in the Niger Delta and goes on to give an (overly optimistic?) hope for solidarity between women in the US protesting war in Iraq and women fighting multinational oil companies in Nigeria. Whether or not American women organizing themselves into nude peace signs on hillsides is the right solution to the oil conflicts in the Niger delta, the comic is a provocative and powerful introduction to a set of issues that get far too little attention in the US media.

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