Critical Fabulation

We merge fictive imagination with intensive research to better understand the lives of convict women, shown through our podcast, artificial intelligence images, and creative biographies, all hosted within our website. These works draw upon the concept of critical fabulation by Saidiya Hartman, where historical and archival research is combined with critical theory and fictional narrative to fill in the blanks left in the historical record. This approach allows for a radical way to interpret the marginalised and undocumented in history which is appropriate for convict women who largely remain undocumented and historical actors only within the context of their male counterparts. Through employing critical fabulation, we are able to think about their experiences in a deeper contextual manner.

Every generation confronts the task of choosing its past. Inheritances are chosen as much as they are passed on. The past depends less on ‘what happened then’ than on the desires and discontents of the present. Strivings and failures shape the stories we tell. What we recall has as much to do with the terrible things we hope to avoid as with the good life for which we yearn. But when does one decide to stop looking to the past and instead conceive of a new order?

Saidiya Hartman

Using the mediums of podcast and creative biographies, we were able to discuss possible rationales for committing crimes, their experiences as mothers, and their lives on board the ships taking them from the familiar to the unknown. Our podcast, also called Ironclad Sisterhood, is available through most podcast platforms, and our website. 

The AI portraits are created using the physical descriptions written about convict women in their indents and muster records: carceral documentation used to surveil and imprison these women. However, by using this information to create imaginative portraits that detail a possibility of what individual women might have looked like, we hope to invert the original intent of the records to create images that celebrate the humanity and agency of convict women.