Who is Utopia For?
by Fariha Róisín
What does utopia mean to you?
Utopia is the future. To me it means enlightenment, it means we’ve reached the apex of humanity; there is no world hunger, no mass poverty, greed is abhorrent, caring is cool. Utopia means we are responsible for the livelihood of each individual we share this planet with, we honor the sacred in everyone. We mediate and restore relationships when there’s friction, we accept chaos as a part of nature—but individually endeavor to do our best for one another. Collective care is an innate part of society.
In every facet of my life my North star is the concept of utopia. It’s utopian existence that moves us to show up better, to do better, to always try. Utopia is also complex and expansive, so it understands that rest is necessary for those who need it the most, prioritizing disabled, Black, Indigenous peoples or child sexual abuse and deep trauma survivors and survivors of genocide and war – these are the bodies that are prioritized. In utopia responsibility is cool. Utopia means gentleness, it means a shift from carcerality. Utopia means Degrowth from capitalism, from structures of extraction. I move there with a hopefulness and an open heart.
Is it important to you to keep the idea of utopia in mind, the goal of a utopian world in mind while you do your work?
It’s categorically the thing that guides me the most in life. I’m extremely focused on how we can change as a people and what needs to be done to get there. I’m motivated by utopian ideals, knowing there’s always something to fight for. In that sense, I think writing is such a profound tool for dreaming, for reimagining, for reconstructing the new world where we can and do coexist with nature, with other species, with each other.
How can you, or do you, apply the idea of utopia to your work?
It’s a guiding process. It’s about thinking outside the box, but also about expanding yourself and your own politics to challenge the work. So when I’m writing anything, I’m also thinking: how can I inject that sense of possibility and revolution into every element of the work? I was raised to think and believe that revolution is possible, and worthy of fighting for… and that’s a sense of hopefulness that still motivates me daily, even when I’m weary and exhausted by the state of the world.
Tell us a bit about the book you wrote: Who is Wellness For?
It’s a book that was in the making for several years. I started writing about self care in 2014, right after the Ferguson riots. Back then, I was already starting to think of how do you keep fighting for justice sustainably? It was the first time, after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown particularly, that I realized that the fight to end white supremacy would be a long protracted assault. I already felt it in my bones, in my DNA. I come from a lineage of men that fought the establishment so it feels/felt like an ancestral fight, too. A complete call to action. But, the more I thought about sustainability of oneself in radical movements, the more I considered self care – inevitably finding my way to the works of bell hooks and Audre Lorde. I started to see the profoundness of caring for oneself as an act of warfare. Especially as a queer, Muslim, Bangladeshi woman… Bangladeshis are some of the most extracted peoples in the world, we make up so much of the world’s labor force from NYC to the Emirates. My parents never learned how to care for themselves, they survived a genocide, as if they thought about ‘healing.’
But, now, decades later, I’m tasked with the grand mission to heal my parent’s wounds. So as I started my own personal journey to self care, I also began to see how disconnected the wellness world was to context and care and fairness. A billion dollar industry that uses exploitation as a model but touts “wellness” is a ridiculous, fraudulent thing. As I continued to heal I realized how much unconsciousness exists in humans. How much power grabbing, narcissism and cruelty exists. How a lack of transparency has forced us into feeling entitled to healing, without considering our greed and what the cost our livelihood is over another’s.
Who Is Wellness Is For? is pointing out these grave issues, it’s an examination of all our human and societal foibles with a main thesis – we need each other.
What does a world with collective wellness designed for all look like to you?
It looks like a world designed for disabled, trans, queer, Black, Indigenous bodies. A world that prioritizes the healing of child sexual abuse, war and trauma survivors. A world that cares about each body, and understands we are all worthy of care and health. That should be a human right.
Fariha Róisín is a multidisciplinary artist, born in Ontario, Canada. She was raised in Sydney, Australia, and is based in Brooklyn, New York. As a Muslim queer Bangladeshi, she is interested in the margins, in liminality, otherness and the mercurial nature of being. Her work has pioneered a refreshing and renewed conversation about wellness, contemporary Islam and queer identities and has been featured in The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, and Vogue. She is the author of the poetry collection How To Cure A Ghost (2019), as well as the novel Like A Bird (2020). Her upcoming work is a book of non-fiction entitled, Who Is Wellness For? out spring 2022, her second book of poetry is entitled Survival Takes a Wild Imagination.