Each professor at UTM has a unique background that inspires them to dedicate their career of research and teaching to a specific area. This week, The Medium sat down with Dr. Jordache A. Ellapen, an Assistant Professor of Feminist Studies in Culture and Media at UTM to discuss his journey to academia, his research, and his past projects.

Ellapen’s journey to academia began in South Africa where he completed high school. Following university, Ellapen says he initially “wanted to become a doctor and so, [he] went to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg [where he completed] two years of medicine.” Living in Johannesburg prompted him to realize that he “didn’t really want to become a doctor [as he] was more interested in arts and culture.”

He had moved from the more rural area where he had grown up, to Johannesburg, a big city where he “was more exposed to different museums, galleries, and theatre, [leading to him to] gravitate towards doing performances, acting, cinema studies, and filmmaking.”

Ellapen then switched his area of study from medicine to dramatic arts with a specialization in Film Studies in South Africa. During this stage, Ellapen recalls that he “still wasn’t sure whether [he] wanted to become a professor [as he] thought [he] was going to be a filmmaker.” When he “started really understanding film in relationship to race, representation, and gender and sexuality, [he] applied—and got the opportunity—to come to the United States to complete a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies.” It was at this stage that Ellapen states that “[he] knew [he] wanted to become a professor.”

When asked about his transfer to film school, Ellapen remarks that he is “glad that he realized quickly that [he] didn’t want to become a medical doctor” as he “loved” film school and felt as if he had “found

[his]

place.”

Ellapen is glad to be teaching at UTM and details the various factors which prompted him to choose this university. The primary factor was the program, as Ellapen felt that for “the kind of training [he has] and the kind of research [he does], a Women and Gender studies program seemed like a natural fit.” Other major attractions for Ellapen included UTM’s city location and the fact that “UTM is one of the top universities in the world where [one] has the opportunity to work with some of the top professors in the world.”

Ellapen liked that Toronto was considered at one time to be “the most diasporic city in the world,” since “a lot of [his] work deals with diasporic communities and formation of race, gender and sexuality within diasporic communities.”  For Ellapen, the “fact that there are big South Asian, Indian, and African diasporic communities in the city was really exciting.”

Ellapen’s current research examines “the Indian diaspora in South Africa and the relationships between Indian and African communities.” He “look[s] at a lot of Afro-Indian relations, particularly in the post-Apartheid era where [there were] new formations of race, gender, and sexuality.” Specifically, Ellapen studies “black and Indian women, queer filmmakers, and the ways in which women and queer filmmakers turn to aesthetic practices as a way to critique the nation and formations of communities which are exclusionary.”

In order to analyze South Africa through marginalized voices,” Ellapen studies a range of aesthetic practices including “film, photography, fine art practices such as gallery and museum exhibitions, and even embroidery.” He is interested in “the different ways which these artists employ these different kinds of media to provide different perspective on South African society outside of the dominant narratives.” 

A visual artist himself, Ellapen has completed two main projects—a short film and a photographic showcase. The short film “dealt with the Indian diaspora in South Africa in the context of xenophobic attacks that were happening in 2008.” The photographic project “drew on the family album and focused on the relationship between memory, diaspora, race, and sexuality.” Ellapen draws inspiration from his personal experience and identity of being Indian South African and how that identity develops in a multicultural community.

Ellapen’s hobbies include gardening, going to the cinema, and touring galleries. He admits that since he’s “still pretty new, he is currently taking time to settle in and get comfortable living in a new place.” Ellapen moved to Toronto in August last year and has been enjoying living in the city. He enjoys the various museums, cinemas, and the cultural events Toronto has to offer.

One of the two courses Ellapen currently teaches is Theories in Women and Gender Studies, (WGS200Y), a requirement for those completing a major or minor in Women and Gender Studies. The other course is WGS434H5S, Special Topics in Women & Gender Studies: Queer Africa.