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News Release

February 03, 2006

'Curse of Nakedness' Inspires One of America's Best Comics

A comic strip based on unique research by a University of Guelph professor has been selected for inclusion in a collection of the finest comics in North America.

“I’m delighted that it’s included,” said Terisa Turner of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. The graphic narrative titled Nakedness and Power will appear in the inaugural edition of Best American Comics 2006, to be published by Boston-based Houghton Mifflin later this year.

Turner wrote the text for the nine-page comic strip with Guelph graduate Leigh Brownhill, who completed her MA in sociology and international development in 1994. The comic strip is illustrated by Seth Tobocman, co-founder of World War 3, a semi-annual publication of political cartoons. It focuses on a 2002 revolt against petroleum pollution led by nearly 600 Nigerian women and the subsequent support they received from women — and men — who took part in similar protests around the world.

“Every statement in the comic is 100-per-cent accurate,” said Turner, noting that many of the images were based on actual photographs. “By sharing our research in this way, we’re able to explain the struggle of these African women and the issues of survival they’re facing in a way that’s easy for a wide and diverse audience to understand.”

The women staged mass protests against the petroleum industry using the “curse of nakedness” as their weapon.

The curse of nakedness refers to a cultural belief held by many Africans that purposefully exposing the female genitalia to men who have caused anger results in “social death,” which in turn may lead to physical death, Turner said.

“We all come into the world through the vagina. By exposing the vagina, the women are saying: ‘We are hereby taking back the life we gave you.’ It’s about bringing forth life and denying life through social ostracism, which is a kind of social execution. Men who are exposed are viewed as dead. No one will cook for them, marry them, enter into any kind of contract with them or buy anything from them.”

Turner learned about the curse of nakedness while living in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s, and she wrote about how women were using it against oil companies that were polluting their land. “I then began noticing the same tactic being used in Kenya in 1992, in the Niger Delta in 2002 and then on a world scale in 2003 as naked protests by women erupted on every continent to oppose the oil companies and the war in Iraq.”

Turner, who has been researching petroleum conflicts for more than 25 years, said the curse of nakedness is levied only under extreme circumstances. “Usually women meet in advance and take a formal vow with one another to succeed in their struggle or die trying.”

The comic strip, which has already been published in World War 3 and displayed at conferences in England, Kenya, Tennessee and Cuba, depicts the 10-day occupation of Africa’s largest oil export terminal and tank field in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta.

“The women were taking a stand against the environmental pollution and economic devastation caused by this oil company and demanding that the corporation leave the country,” Turner said.

Because the oil company staff knew they could not survive in society with such a curse, there was a 40-per-cent shutdown of oil production in Nigeria, she said. Turner estimates the government and oil companies lost $11 million US and $2.5 million US a day, respectively. The company quickly conceded most of the women’s demands, but has failed so far to make good on its promises, she said.

Prof. Terisa Turner
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53990

Holly Bemiss
Assistant Director of Publicity
Houghton Mifflin
(212) 420-5849

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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