Multimedia journalist Dinika Govender and social entrepreneur and global community designer Karen Mok recently launched Disorient in July, an ambitious digital project aimed to build a cross-continental library of diasporic knowledge. “Disorient tells the stories of immigrant cultures — in words, sounds, frames, and experiences — and connects diaspora creators from San Francisco to Johannesburg,” according to the site.
It’s fitting that Dinika resides in Johannesburg and Karen in San Francisco, the physical distance between them speaks volumes to the publication’s themes of being globally connected, yet sharing similar feelings of disorientation in different cities.
Now also a website, Disorient first began as a newsletter called The Disorient Culture Club. We chat to Dinika.
Tell us about the title Disorient?
The name represents our mission and our method. Mission-wise, we want to complicate the Orientalism at the heart of every characterisation of an Asian person in work, life and media as exotic, submissive, sexually disempowered, curry-eaters; and highlight the narratives of a global population of people whose have roots in many places, who have struggled in some way with assimilation to a more dominant culture. It’s all an experimental, public learning process — one that seeks critique and collaboration. We can’t build a home for cultural complexity with a fixed mindset, right?
If the Disorient library were a physical space, what sections would you find in it?
I imagine that we’d have an orature section; a theatre section for stories that must be told with whole bodies; outdoor reading and indaba spaces; writers’ and artists’ spaces; nooks and crannies for readers and writers of every level of introversion — there are so many possible configurations when we expand our thinking of what a library is.
Disorient’s newsletter showcases restaurants for readers to try. What’s your relationship with food?
I love food so much — making it, learning about it, sharing it. Stereotypically, yes, I grew up with Indian food and my blood is likely one part masala by now. But I’m definitely in a polyamorous relationship with different food cultures. My relationship with food is also a story of rejection of culture in order to assimilate in certain spheres, only to embrace and reclaim that culture in order to mitigate further erasure of that culture.
In many ways, identity in South Africa is developed along racial lines. How do we break away from this?
I think it’s vital to appreciate that there is little that is shallow about the South African identity being “developed along racial lines”. It is hardwired into us. By appreciating the depth and complexity of our identities, we can perhaps be a bit kinder to each other, and more persistent in doing the long-term work of imagining true, judicious integrations.
Part of breaking away from the mindset you point out is first to appreciate its complexity, to see ourselves as newborns in relation to this massive identity complex that we’ve been born into. Not to scare us off but to avoid the polystyrene Rainbow Nationisms that give us slogans and statues instead of rent control, transformed education and equal-pay-for-equal-work.
What can we look forward to in the print edition of Disorient?
The print edition of Disorient will be something of a collectable: an anthology of diasporic cultures and creators in multi-format content; from photography to poetry.