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The concept and goal of cultural translation

Language is embedded in the culture from which it is formed and which continues to mould it; moving between languages requires a fundamental understanding of the subtleties of each society.

The necessity to understand cultural perspectives other than our own is an increasingly urgent task. In the 1958 novel Deep Rivers, the mystically whirring rhythm of the zumbayllu, or spinning top, is imbued with the ancient spirits of the Andean indigenous people.

Rocks echo centuries of knowledge, rushing water the concept and goal of cultural translation of far-off places, and time dances to a different beat.

By Sophie J Williamson

For him, the hegemony of the Spanish language—in which he was obliged to write—was incapable of capturing the union of body, mind, nature and spiritual ancestry so embedded in his Quechan perspective. Travelling overland from Iquitos to Lima, the terrain transforms from rich steamy jungle with snaking rivers into the sharp snowy peaks and deep gorges of the Andes, merging finally into the barren deserts that edge the vast South Pacific Ocean.

Arguedas was acutely aware of the contradictions, displacements, cultural clashes and turmoil borne in this divided and colonised landscape. Dense symbolism and peculiarities nameless or unfamiliar to the colonial reader, the plurality of nuanced experiences captures the convergence and dispersion of the cultures as he flexes and bends the language.

As national consciousnesses become increasingly polarized, the process of defining the self seems constantly on the back foot. Even those creating the toughest borders seem perplexed as to where their boundaries and affiliations lie. While the arts discourse is broadly liberal, national boundaries nevertheless frame much of our thinking.

Exhibition listings, press releases the concept and goal of cultural translation wall texts commonly announce: British artist so-and-so, Toronto-based such-and-such, or Nigerian artist, living between Helsinki and Berlin, someone-else. The proliferation of biennials in the 1990s led to an anxiety in the 2000s over the biennalisation of art production, which in turn led to a backlash that caused a rush to the the concept and goal of cultural translation with an explosion of residency programmes once again parachuting artists in for surface-level dialogue.

While these initiatives intend to provide a space to demarcate and disseminate difference, the outcome is more often one that flattens into superficial sameness.

But with the concept and goal of cultural translation rush to understand one another, do we run the risk of razing nuanced individual narratives? Instead we must establish a cultural ecosystem that recognises the geopolitical—and subsequently cultural—clashes and miscommunications implicating our immediate and everyday social climate.

In the UK, this hybridity has long been discussed in the public sphere by contemporary artists: Appadurai, elucidating further, poses the impossibility of the existing conception of—in his case—Americanness containing this spectrum of transnations.

As cultural identity becomes increasingly protean, the plausibility of nation-state rhetoric seems ever more redundant.

On Cultural Translation

The intricacies of ancient and modern Jewish diaspora, generations of colonisation and the transportation of slaves is now superimposed by contemporary movements of economic migration, the concept and goal of cultural translation political exile, widespread refugee crises and environmental displacement. Among the artistic community, it is commonplace to have parents of two different nationalities, to have been born and raised in a third country, and perhaps now to live in a fourth.

Subsequently, art production equally tangles these reference points: While these practices draw from a complex worldwide network of interrelations, the outcomes are still nevertheless translated through a process of Eurocentric cultural transfer inscribed with Western terminology. For those artists who wish their work to be seen independent of their cultural context, this can be the concept and goal of cultural translation cause of frustration: Pratchaya Phinthong, whose work has consistently traced the lines of geopolitical and economic undercurrents, attempted to circumnavigate this filtration of the self and other by bringing audience and subject into direct dialogue in his 2013 the concept and goal of cultural translation Broken Hill at the Chisenhale Profile AM369.

The Natural History Museum in London holds in its collection the homo rhodesiensis skull; hailed as the ancestor of all homo sapiens, it has been instrumental in understanding human evolution.

This groundbreaking artefact, discovered in 1921 in Northern Rhodesia now Zambiawas stolen by the British Empire, under colonial entitlement. Whether presenting stacks of valueless Zimbabwe dollars, amassed debris equivalent to the weight of wild berries collected daily by exploited seasonal Thai the concept and goal of cultural translation in Sweden, or a replica prehistoric skull, he does not create objects but rather produces a dialectic flux of ethics, beliefs and values bridging seemingly irreconcilable individual circumstances.

If, as The concept and goal of cultural translation Chakravorty Spivak asserts, translation is the most intimate act of reading, surely this privilege of intimacy should be permitted to the reader, or in the case of visual art, the viewer. But if the translation of visual art beyond hegemonic cultural language necessitates nuanced individual mediation, how can this be feasibly achieved without demanding the personalised experience of Broken Hill?

While translation aims to directly convert and retain the same meaning, transubstantiation allows for interpretation based on a dialogue with the original.

In the field of translation studies, the pejorative term translatese refers to the awkwardness of unidiomatic translation, such as clunky language or over literal conversion of idioms or syntax: Lactose Intolerance, 2015, is a series of seven large oil paintings commissioned by Fujiwara from Mansudae Art Studio, the state-run art and propaganda manufacturer in North Korea.

Closed off from the outside world, the circumstances in which the paintings were made is as unfamiliar to the Western art-going public as a glass of fresh milk is to the unnamed artists who painted them there is no dairy production in North Korea.

The works take on a superficial mimicry, a fictitious familiarity of both the art history and the subject matter they imitate. This is not to endorse a perspective of cultural opacity: However, translation implies an understanding about understanding; what it means to know a language—and what it means not to know it.

As poet and translator Alastair Reid writes: Informed by ancient Western asceticism and contemporary Sub-Saharan African philosophy, his current research explores the impulse to write. Bringing together refugee groups and places of sanctuary, a collaboratively written script—based on a fictional narrative about a novelist working in a time when all words are copyrighted—will explore the boundaries of language in their diasporic cultures and the possibilities of articulation beyond formal linguistics.

If we can admit defeat in transparent translation, is there then instead something to be gained from recognising and embracing a lack of understanding? Can we transcend languages, whether linguistic or visual? If contemporary hybridity is infinitely nuanced, plural and porous, perhaps creating a framework within which a multitude of collective voices can be heard is the only plausible solution. It seems apt then to end with a reference to religious scripture, the disparate readings of which have been cause for bloody clashes throughout human history and continue to agitate modern society.

According to one translation of the Bible, God orders Cain to triumph over sin, while according to another, God promises Cain that he will defeat sin.

Perhaps this is the most appropriate approach to take with the conundrum of heterogeneous cultural translation: