Fabriano 110 gsm
20.5 × 14.5 in
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)
The subliminal messages of crude homophobic and sissyphobic taunts of early childhood teach us that our bodies and desires are shameful. Touched is created out of this punitive reality of longing and its retributions particular to the context of South Africa’s colonial education system in the 1960s and 70s. The trickle-down effect of state-sanctioned violence (in South Africa’s case, apartheid’s omnipresent inhumanity, corporal punishment in school, and the disregard for individual integrity) shapes how we see our bodies and the bodies of others.
Addressing the unuttered and unutterable, the wounding that happens in silence, the traumas that silence us, Touched shows the story in ways that get closer to the experiences themselves. The use of bright, children’s-book colours are a way of overcoming the weight of what was meant to be bottled up. By focusing on the sense of agency that comes with embodied creation, colors and shapes, the book aims to move away from the cerebral intellectuality that literature expects, and closer to the physicality that drawing allows.
Touched emerged out of a prose book about friendship and the impact of childhood friendships on those later in life. While working on that book, Levin began to notice how touch and desire were at the core of his early friendships, and he began to question: how do we learn to touch, how is desire formed, who teaches us, if anyone, to say no. Shaun Levin says, “In my teens and twenties I put myself in situations where I did not know that ‘no’ was an option. To say ‘no’ was to choose solitude, loneliness. To agree to unwanted touch seemed better than no touch at all. As if those were the only two options when the affection of those we love was neither available nor deserved.
an extract from Touched:
“All this I wanted to tell you and then hope you also see that even if sunny even if the dunes hiding and exposing from where this learnt from where and you know I ran to hide so many years to start again but nicer at least that’s what I thought who can know but in the shattering that solitude brings unravelling I remember a place both shelter and pen never leave but never be there outside the men then war outside the bombs how we cried but in vain because we landed in a body forbidden to cry but we do and when we’re not we’re escaping wild like dogs we have been dogs for a long time we were meant to be fishermen in the language we landed in one generation from shtetl to Speedo bikini born with desire born to know who to touch be touched by so early lying exposed to be touched and going from and to asking to touch and not enough people say no”.