I chose to concentrate this week on the text entitled:
“Perfidious fidelity: The untranslatability of the Other” by Sarat Maharaj.
Maharaj re-investigates the international space and attempts to recode both the notion of translation and that of hybrity.
He explores themes of untranslatability – where he points out that translation from one language into another is not an automatic process, but involves a second creative event that belongs solely in the world of the translator. Here, the translator not only has to understand the original meaning and all the subtle nuances of the thing that is being translated, but also they need then to re-create that meaning using the intrinsically different tools available to them in the second language. Maharaj asserts that this is often an impossible task, but that this “failure” on the part of translation can be a positive thing.
“These do not so much translate into one another as translate to produce difference.”
He argues that a hybrid does not act as a simple translation from ‘self’ to ‘other’ as this is not possible, and therefore must be seen in itself as ‘a creative force’.
“From their very opacity to each other, from in-between them, translation thus cooks up and creates something different, something hybrid.”
I came across an artist called Aigana Gali, who recently held her first London exhibition at The Westbury Hotel Gallery in 2010, who I think exemplifies the exciting things that emerge from the merging and attempts at translation between two different cultures.
This artist comes with an interesting cultural hybridity of her own. She is of Georgian/Kazakh parentage and was brought up in a home where there was a mix of Orthodox Christianity and Islam.
Her work explores the clash between Christianity and Islam: in particular iconography or the lack of it.
The human image plays centre stage in most Christian events, festivals, art and places of worship. This iconographic representation of figures deemed as holy and worthy of worship includes saints, prophets and martyrs, but also super-human figures such as Mary and Christ, with even God himself represented with a human face.
Is this yet another example of the arrogance of the Western world, especially as most representations of these figures are European in appearance, or was it simply a sort of marketing ploy on the part of the religious leaders – using a familiar facial appearance of icons to engender familiarity, acceptance and loyalty from its followers?
In contrast, Islam forbids any pictorial representation of God or the prophet, preferring, perhaps, to distance the nature of God and his chosen one from the grubby reality of what it is to be “human”.
Exploring the similarities and contrast between these two religions that share their origins and many of their beliefs is always a rich source of thought-provoking themes.
Gali’s work portrays religious figures or events by attempting to capture the atmosphere and sensation, the very nature of “sacredness”, rather than the actual facial features, and achieves an incredible beauty in my opinion.
Maharaj, S., 1994. Perfidious Fidelity: The Untranslatability of the Other. In J. Fisher ed. Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts. London: Kala Press and the Institute of International Visual Arts, pp. 28-35.