A few of the people who represented significant political and cultural changes taking place in the 21st century in arts, identity, religion and literature
Mudrooroo was the pen name of Colin Thomas Johnson, an Australian author who claimed he had Aboriginal ancestors. He is culturally and politically significant because his claims to Aboriginality started a fierce debate in Australian culture on authentic identity.
Once outed as a non-Aboriginal person, his books were removed from courses on Aboriginal literature. Even more interestingly he did not launch the simulation of Aboriginality himself. It was Mary Durack, a non-Aboriginal writer and critic, who started the myth that Colin Thomas Johnson was an Aboriginal writer.
Ultimately Colin Thomas Johnson also began simulating the persona. Many years later, when the controversy about his simulated Aboriginality erupted, it came out his darker-than-white complexion had led to his being treated as a non-White person and, therefore, he had lived as an Aboriginal person at an experiential level.
This controversy surrounding notions of Mudrooroo, authenticity, and Aboriginality led to his claims being denounced by Aboriginal groups and it became difficult for Mudrooroo to publish his work in Australia. Consequently, he moved to Nepal and started living there.
This year he passed away in a hospital in Brisbane. His literary and political contribution to the fusion of Aboriginal and white identities and the surrounding debate on authentic identity will be remembered in Australian cultural life for many decades to come.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
He gave himself the title of Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and also (later on) as the Emir of Islamic State of Iraq. He is known for planning large-scale activities, for example, the suicide attack on the Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad, which resulted in the death of Khalid al-Fahdawi.
An admirer of Osama Bin Laden and nicknamed as the Ghost and the Invisible Sheikh, he was killed in an operation conducted by the US Special Forces. He will be remembered for his militancy and brief life which was, according to him, spent trying to establish what he viewed as a Caliphate and, thereby, proved that imagined communities operate as othering constructs and that the world has many symbolic orders competing for dominance. His views and actions invited similar views and actions that ended his life.
Toni Morrison, the first black woman to receive the Nobel prize, dealt with the African-American experience in her fiction. She explored the lives of African-American women through her characters as they lived their lives in America.
She did not pay much attention to the conflict between white and black lives and, instead, focussed on the way black people lived. There are no white characters influencing their everyday existence and, stories from the history of slavery, dreams of escaping from slave masters, love, and feedom informed her work which was mixed with significant elements of magical realism and the fabulous.
As an editor at Random House, a position she held for two decades, she tried to highlight the literary output of African-American authors. She did not only support African-American writers. Mohsin Hamid told me once that she, as his teacher, encouraged him to publish his first novel Moth Smoke, which originally began as a class project at Princeton University.
Other than her literary output, she will be remembered for helping emerging writers and the largeness of her heart and her generous spirit. She considered language as an expression of humanity’s desire to transcend death. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” said Toni Morrison in her Nobel acceptance speech.
João Gilberto, a Brazilian guitarist from Bahia, who acquired legendary status all over the world as a pioneer of bossa nova (‘new wave’). His collaboration with Stan Getz, especially the song The Girl from Ipanama made him a household name with those who loved to listen to Latin jazz.
His delicately seductive vocals and undulating guitar rhythms had an incredible ability to get stuck in the ears of his listeners, Gilberto fashioned a collaborative friendships with many US jazz artists, yet he remained inspired by Rio de Janeiro, contemporary samba, and fused different traditional and contemporary genres in his music.
His 1958 rendition of Chega de Saudade No More Blues, written by Vinicius de Moraes) was a runaway hit which blended many genres. With his then wife, who was the lead singer in The Girl from Ipanama, and saxophonist Stan Getz, he created many tracks that would keep his name alive. His work has inspired many Latin American jazz musicians to experiment with traditional and contemporary trends and to contribute to world culture.
Dom Phillips summed up João Gilberto in the following words: “one of the country’s greatest musicians and composers, a reclusive genius in a nation of extroverts whose work recalled happier, more optimistic times for a deeply divided nation.”