MOTHER TONGUES LIBRARY HIGHLIGHTS
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is a Kenyan writer and an influential figure in the discourse around the politics of language in African Literature.
In the late 1970s Wa Thiong’o rejected English in favour of writing fiction in his native language, Gĩkũyũ. In the introduction to his book ‘Decolonising the Mind’ he states that “This book […] is my farewell to English as a vehicle for any of my writings. From now on it is Gĩkũyũ and Kiswahili all the way. However, I hope that through the age-old medium of translation I shall be able to continue dialogue with all.”
We have chosen the 1977 play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) co-written by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Ngũgĩ wa Mĩriĩ, as it is the first play he wrote in his mother tongue. The play was produced in collaboration with the Kamĩrĩĩthũ Community Theatre, with the locals involved playing a big part in the writing and construction of the characters. Staged in a community-built open-air theatre, the play proved so powerful it was performed for six continuous weeks before the government shut it down and arrested both playwrights.
The play that sparked his arrest was his reawakening to this mother tongue. In his book ‘Decolonising the Mind’ he devotes a chapter on the experience of producing the play and explains that language is an additional element of form in theatre and therefore the conscious choice of language is crucial. By writing Ngaahika Ndeenda in Gĩkũyũ, it meant that for the Kamĩrĩĩthũ Community there was no longer a barrier between the content of their history and the linguistic medium of its expression.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s revolutionary work combines praxis and art form, and transforms language from a form within itself, to a tool that is interconnected with people, cultures and histories.
About the Coloniality of Language by Gabriela A. Veronelli refers to the process of the racialization of colonized people as communicating agents, that began with the conquest of America and continues nowadays. Veronelli’s research focuses on the dehumanization of the colonized populations, by denying their communicative capacity and agency as well as their knowledge and experience.
We have chosen this artwork from Brasilian artist Anna Bella Geiger as the perfect illustration of this text, as the colonizer wants to see and understand the colonized as only one thing.
Photo credits: História de Brasil: Little Boys & Girls (II) by Anna Bella Geiger, C-Print/Collage, 1975-1976.
The Greater London Council (GLC) was the local government administrative body for Greater London running from 1965 until it was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986. From 1981 it embarked on a radical social experiment by funding local community groups. Reading through the book we were astonished by the amount of grassroots community groups that existed or continue to exist because of GLC, including groups run by Black and Ethnic Minority Women, Lesbians, Older Women, Carers, women-led Media and Arts local initiatives, the list keeps going. Now, it has become almost impossible for community groups to form, as resources are limited to institutions and not shared widely with local communities.
As a member of mother tongues, when I think about language I see the everyday bodily and linguistic translations we forcefully perform to be able to survive within centralised white, hetero, middle class, mono-cultural, capitalist institutional spaces – each one of us with varied experiences. What amazed us about this book was how it manifests as an example of how space and wealth can be decentralised for local and collective voices to hold on to and self-define their vocabularies and expressions, surrounded by a wider network of community led groups.
Photo credits: the front cover of the edition, designed by Diane Ceresa, illustrated by Judy Stevens, 1986
Ecologies of knowledge, incommensurability and translation, by Boaventura de Sousa Santos is a text from his book Decolonising Knowledge, Reinventing Power. We were particularly attracted to this chapter because of our translation parties and our understanding of how we translate not just with our knowledge of a specific language but with our cultural background, beliefs and general knowledge, that is connected to our roots and identity. Through translation, it becomes possible to identify common concerns, complementary approaches and, of course, also intractable contradictions.
Photo credits: Mirtha Dermisashe, Diario NOº 1 AÑO 1, 1972. We have selected the artwork of Argentinian artist Mirtha Dermisashe to illustrate this text, as an example of what could happen when we translate something without acknowledging the cultural differences.
5. Meera Shakti Osborne, Self-Care Booklets
Part of the “Self-Love Project” created with Nottingham Contemporary and Nottingham Refugee Forum. Translations by Kadria Fahmy and Gita Salimi.
Self-Love pack / بسته ای برای زندگی فردی بهتر / باقة الإعتناء وحب النفس
The Present Is a Portal / زمان حاضر بسته ای برای آینده ماست/الحاضر حزمة بوابات
Imagining the Future / تصور آینده/تَخَيُّل المستقبل
We are highlighting the trilingual, Arabic, Farsi and English self-care booklets by the artist and community facilitator Meera Shakti Osborne. The booklets were made as part of the Self-Love project where Meera worked with Nottingham Contemporary and Nottingham Refugee Forum, to produce booklets focusing on wellbeing, creativity and uplifting each other.
Reading the self-care booklets you are encouraged to use mind, feelings and touch. Meera puts three languages next to each other creating a positive visual playfulness and appreciation of a contextual space where you will encounter the familiar and incomprehensible.
Meera mainly works with people on low income/unemployed and people of colour/people with experience of displacement and or/migration, so their work along with exploring the poetics of multilingualism, embraces the necessity and practicalities of normalising multilingualism.
For further info, please head to Meera’s website.
Rivera uses the concept as a theoretical-methodological tool/practice, to work around the defamiliarization of the white gaze, and the many colonial meanings and uses of images. The “Sociología de la imagen” as a communicative tool helps to erase the borders between artistic creation and political and conceptual thoughts. It can be used to rewrite history and to build a critical narrative and perspective on reality. As Silvia Rivera Cuasicanqui explains, “The transition between the image and the word is a fundamental part of the elaboration of new decolonizing discourses and pedagogical practices”. This text posits that images can allow for meanings that are not censored by the official colonial language.
Photo credits: illustration from Waman Puma, indicating the different relation that the coloniser and colonised had with gold.