Mother Tongue 2002
“Sedira’s video work “Mother Tongue” looks at three generations of the artist’s family, each communicating in their own ‘mother tongue’, but unable to communicate directly through words. “Mother Tongue” features documentary-style interviews that the artist conducted with her mother and her daughter. The multilingual nature of the dialogues—in Arabic, French and English—connects past and present, revealing bonds that are subtle yet resilient. About the work Sedira states:
“Lack of communication is also a way of conveying meaning. My mother never learned French properly because she wanted to show her rejection of the French language and behaviour after the war of independence, even though she and my father lived in France for economic reasons—North African immigrants were used as cheap labor. They experienced a lot of racism, and my parents felt a sense of failure that they had to bring up their children in that culture. They were angry that the French had managed to divide their Arab identity too, setting Algerians against each other by giving French citizenship to Algerian Christians and Jews but not Muslims, so that Arabs and Algerians would turn against each other.”
—Amy Brandt, Exhibition Assistant, Global Feminisms
I really resonated with this piece in relation to how language and the mother-daughter relationship is portrayed. The dynamic of being multilingual is something which plays out in most of my family experiences and I think this is something prevalent in my piece through my recordings with my mother. Personally English is the language which I am most comfortable with but I felt that by having my mother tell the story in English, which isn’t her mother tongue, it would make the piece detached from its origins in Senegal. Initially, my mother chose to tell the story in French and I think this is partly due to my younger sisters who were also present for the recording not being able to speak Wolof, which was the language my mother was told the story in. French is also colonial language deeply integrated into Senegalese society, and I’ve found that dissimilarly to Sedira’s mother, she didn’t reject the language. Instead, I feel she takes ownership by using the colonial language in order to convey a narrative relating to Senegalese heritage.
Memory 2018 – Tarrawarra From Will to Form
“As a Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal man Dale Harding is of the land in Central Queensland. Stories of becoming are familiar in Aboriginal concepts of country. For Harding this is Yoondhalla, meaning ‘one in the one place’, a concept that speaks of the interconnectedness of everything, the shared substance of will that we draw from and pour back into at the same time. Here, in a forty-metre wall drawing, Harding brings up the earth from his grandmother’s Garingbal country in the Carnarvon Gorge area, carrying the will of the land with him from Central Queensland to TarraWarra. Harding and his young cousin Jordan each engrave a memory of the Carnarvon Gorge’s undulations onto the Vista Walk’s eastern wall that reflect the ridgeline visible through the windows opposite. This collapsing of space and time is extended through the stencilling of local flora using the vibrant earth of elsewhere. The red Ghangalu earth is mixed with saliva and blown and rubbed into the Museum’s wall, becoming a vast field of colour, which both folds into and transcends the aspirational language of American colour field paintings. Freed from an objective context the pigment can resonate and emanate in itself.”
– From Will to Form, 2018 Biennial Catalogue by Emily Cormack
Whilst on my study abroad in Australia, I saw this piece at the Tarrawarra gallery by Dale Harding and Jordan Upkett. After my week 8 crit session around the significance of having the language of the storytelling be something which isn’t accessible to an anglophone audience, it reminded me of the experience I had with the wall piece at this museum.
The curator explained to us that there was a story being told in the piece, but that it has an important cultural significance to the artists Aboriginal community, and there were only certain aspects he was allowed to tell and explain to an outsider.
What I felt in having a visual impact but knowing there was something beyond the visuals that I didn’t necessarily have access to. To me this created an interesting experience with the piece, I could appreciate it in its formal qualities but was intrigued that there was something deeply personal that I will probably never fully understand. So my relationship with the piece will evidently be different from what the artists experience, which will also differ from what a general audience experiences compared to an audience from the same Aboriginal community as the artists.
Here are some of the notes I took from my crit session
- Quilting creates linking to storytelling, Fragmented like having two different versions of the same story
- Headphones may not be majorly inviting, asks the audience to put an extra effort in (I think this might be a good effect, as engaging with an unfamiliar culture is at times uncomfortable and requires an extra effort)
- The language barrier can be decolonising by not having the language in English/ creates discomfort (though the history still prevalent because one of them is in French, colonial language)
- One pillow and two headphones – confuses the audience?
- Liked the contrast of the colour of the fabric to the muted colours of the calabash, the net and case
I found that most people did listen to both headphones but that the seating wasn’t necessarily as effective as I’d hope to create an intimate experience. I did find, however, that people would walk around the piece whilst listening which I thought was also an effective way of creating a relationship between the story and the piece.
An obvious dilemma I face with the story is that they are both not in English to a majority anglophone audience. I only had one French-speaking classmate who could understand one of the pieces.
Although there is this language barrier, I still stand by keeping the recordings in French and Wolof. I feel that to translate into English would take away an important link to the source of the story. I think the experience of having to hear a story in a language one doesn’t understand recreates the impact of engaging with something unfamiliar, and that the audience will have to create their own relationship to the pirogue from what they visually see and experience.
For my week 8 exhibition, I had a few objects to display with 2 sound pieces on two different sets of MP3 players and headphones. I chose the 1st version where my mum tells the story in French. This is a more factual and distant version as she explains the history and how she experienced the story of Mame Coumba Bang, but also how she feels about it now and the 3rd version which is in Wolof where my mum is telling the story in a more mythical way, as it would presumably be told to children. I thought it was important to have both languages in the story as they both represent an important aspect of Senegalese culture and the French showing the influence of colonialism still being quite prevalent in the everyday.
I wanted the piece to display different important elements of the story of Mame Coumba Bang and the life in Saint Louis. I decided to hang the fishing net as I wanted it to be a piece you could walk around and I felt it was the best way for it to interact with the calabash as an object. I wanted to use a plinth to have the calabash slightly elevated but decided to instead get a wooden crate cause I felt that it created a more domestic feeling to the objects, as something that is less intimidating to visually interact with.
I experimented further with the display and considered adding some photographs I had taken of Saint Louis to create visual links to the place.
I decided against using them as I felt it was a bit unnecessary and would take away from the storytelling impact. I find that with a story it is important to be able to immerse yourself and the images may be distracting from the objects and their interaction with the story.
I also considered how the audience would experience listening to the piece and decided that I think it would be most effective if the audience were to be seated in their interaction with the piece. This would create a more intimate storytelling experience, one which I related to being a child and being read stories in your classes and sitting on a cushion. It creates a sense of comfort, immersion and I think would likely lead to a longer listening experience.
I also covered the pillow in a material which has cultural links as I bought it in an art and material shop in Saint Louis and is a patchwork of popular materials often used in decoration and clothing in Saint Louis and other places in Senegal.
A dilemma I had with this display was whether having two sets of headphones and one pillow would lead to confusion, but I felt that had I had two different sets of seating people would presume that the two headphones are playing the same thing, but I thought I’d just wait and see how it played out during the exhibition.
When telling my family about my project and looking into the story of Mame Coumba Bang, I was told that the traditional way of giving food or liquid offerings was with a calabash. A Calabash is a term used for artefacts made from the hard shell of a fruit in the gourd family “Lagenaria siceraria.” Once the calabash is dried and hollowed out it can be used for serving or storing food.
In West Africa, calabash vessels were used for many practical purposes. Their makers enhanced the beauty of these objects of daily use by decorating their surfaces in different ways.
I was lucky enough to have my aunt buy the calabash above after a trip from Senegal which my mum gave to me when she came to visit. I think it’s an important cultural piece relating to Mame Coumba Bang’s story and which also represents an object which was once used in everyday life in Senegal.
This year I worked at the Tate Exchange with PurpleStars and ArtLab the exchange consisted of ‘a series of participatory workshops that will enable visitors to explore the theme of movement’.
On my first day, I was mainly working with PurpleStars, they had created an “airport lounge” for people to come and sit in and we were encouraging members of the public to come and share a story about any journey they had taken!
One of the workshops was a ‘listen and draw’ activity, people were asked to draw in response to some sound pieces created by 1st-year art students with individual silent disco headphones.
The second workshop of Ar Lab’s was a selfie sphere which was a big shiny ball suspended from the ceiling. Participants were given the option to draw a self-portrait in this sphere and then take a 360 image with a GoPro with these self-portraits on their head, or just take 360 photos as they pleased.
The final ArtLab station was Augmented Reality (AR) through an iPad, which was displayed onto a monitor. Here people and the children especially interacted with the images of things like bats and butterflies displayed.
Overall, this was a fun and rewarding experience being able to share these fun creative workshops with the public at the Tate and hope to keep taking part in it until I graduate.
Measures of Distance 1988
“Measures of Distance is a video work comprising several layered elements. Letters written by Hatoum’s mother in Beirut to her daughter in London appear as Arabic text moving over the screen and are read aloud in English by Hatoum. The background images are slides of Hatoum’s mother in the shower, taken by the artist during a visit to Lebanon. Taped conversations in Arabic between mother and daughter, in which her mother speaks openly about her feelings, her sexuality and her husband’s objections to Hatoum’s intimate observation of her mother’s naked body are intercut with Hatoum’s voice in English reading the letters.
Hatoum has said:
Although the main thing that comes across is a very close and emotional relationship between mother and daughter, it also speaks of exile, displacement, disorientation and a tremendous sense of loss as a result of the separation caused by war. In this work I was also trying to go against the fixed identity that is usually implied in the stereotype of Arab woman as passive, mother as non-sexual being the work is constructed visually in such a way that every frame speaks of literal closeness and implied distance.
(Quoted in Mona Hatoum 1997, p.140).”
I found some interesting links in the process of my project to Measures of Distance by Mona Hatoum. In my piece, I feel that I felt that same important emotional connection with my mother was an important part of making my piece as at first, my mum was a bit wary of having a recording of her voice be a part of my piece. And the recordings ended up being inadvertently a conversation not just between my mother and me, but also my younger sisters and my mother.
I also found a link in the disparity of language, where Hatoum reads her mothers letters written in Arabic in English. My mother similarly engages in act of translation, perhaps for the sake of the audience (in the case of the mother the audience being my younger sisters) or perhaps because of the different cultural upbringing, where my mother seems to have become more comfortable in her French storytelling having grown up with a French education.
When my mum came to visit me in England over the Week 6 break, I thought it would be interesting to I record my mum telling the story of Mame Coumba Bang. I thought that this could be a valuable addition to my piece and could make it quite immersive. I also chose to do this because oral tradition is very important in Senegal. Many aspects of Senegalese history have been kept through oral tradition and there is even a dedicated local family lineage called “the griots” which keep stories from the past and perform them at social gatherings.
It ended up being quite interesting as my mum ended up telling the stories just before bed to my younger sisters who hadn’t actually heard it yet, so it was like watching the oral tradition continue to be passed on. Having my mum orally telling the story was an important personal link as I feel that growing up with this oral tradition and storytelling I experienced in both Wolof and French have become a big reason why I feel connected to Senegalese culture despite never having lived there.
I had 3 different versions of mum’s story of Mame Coumba Bang
In the first version, my mum tells the story in French. This is a more factual and distant version as she explains the history and how she experienced the story of Mame Coumba Bang, but also how she feels about it now. In this version, she expresses how she doesn’t necessarily believe that the story is factual but that it was an important way to keep young children indoors and that this belief has helped the town avoid a lot conflict.
The 2nd version is also in French but here my mum is telling the story in a more mythical way, as it would presumably be told to children
And the final version my mum is telling the story in a mythical way as well, as it would’ve been told in person but is telling the story in Wolof, the main local language in Senegal
At the start, I asked my mum to record in whatever language she felt most comfortable in with and found it interesting that it was French, probably since she’s been away from Senegal for so long and it was the language she went to school in it has probably become a language she uses more. It was also probably since my young sisters don’t really speak Wolof yet. But I did think it was important to have the version in Wolof as that was the language she was told the story in and that I also heard growing up.
So after my research, I settled on the idea of making a piece that linked to where my mum is from, N’dar (Wolof name)/Saint Louis (French name) in Senegal.
Whilst I initially wanted to make work about the cultural hybridity I have experienced as I’ve grown up in different countries around the world, I found it difficult to figure out how to convey my personal relationship to different cultures in a piece that was impactful and found myself more drawn to creating a connection with where my family is from there as I’ve never lived there.
Through my research, I found that the history of Saint Louis in itself carries this hybridity with European culture anyways, as not only a colonial town but the first town colonised by the French in Senegal. The history is still very prevalent in the town’s architecture and culture.
The fishermen are an integral part of the town of the culture and economy of Saint Louis as well as an important part of my family history. A story I was drawn to in my research was the one of Mame Coumba Bang. My mother told me about this growing up and it is about a spirit/goddess in the river that connects to the sea around N’dar. The local community believe that she is a protective power in the town and that she keeps not only the town safe but also the fishermen when they go on their excursions. In order for her to keep the N’dar safe, there is an important tradition of giving her an offering.
Aside from my mother and the help of other family members, I found this really informative article about the role of Mame Coumba Bang in the local community: https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1127&context=isp_collection