The After Babel, Translate exhibition is running at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations
from 14 December 2016 to 20 March 2017. Babel, a Hebrew word meaning confusion, is in reference to the Tower of Babel, the origin of language diversity, but is this diversity a curse or an opportunity? Answer: an opportunity, provided there is translation.
Translation is one of the great cultural and social challenges of our globalised world. To translate is to prefer the costly and sometimes tricky task of tackling differences between languages, cultures and world views to compare and reconcile them over accepting fast, basic communication in more or less artificial languages (global English or Globish today).
First and foremost translation is a historical event. The translation routes, via Greek, Latin and Arabic, are the routes along which knowledge and power were transferred. The language of Europe is translation said Umberto Eco. The civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean were built on this paradoxical practice of saying almost the same thing and inventing as you went along, at the juncture of knowledge and languages.
It is also a contemporary challenge. Language diversity might often seem to be an obstacle to the emergence of a united society and a common political space, but the After Babel, Translate exhibition turns this proposition on its head and shows how translation, this bridging of differences, is a good model for todays citizenship.
With an abstract ideathe crossover from one language to anotheras its premise, the exhibition invites visitors to see, think and explore this in between space. From the myth of the Tower of Babel to the Rosetta Stone, from Aristotle to Tintin and from the Divine Word to sign languages, the exhibition presents nearly 200 hundred artworks, objects, manuscripts, documents and installations, from the simple to the spectacular, that demonstrate the challenges and stakes of translation.
The exhibition is divided into three sections:
Part one, Babel, curse or opportunity: politics of language, is extremely visual and visitors will have a chance to discover many wonderful objects on display, including different representations of the Tower of Babel such as the soaring tower by Tatlin; famous pieces like Greek vases from the Louvre and the Rosetta Stone, or Chéri Sambas angry socio-political art.
Part two, entitled Flows and peoples, looks at the linguistic routes travelled by the works that formed the civilisations in the Mediterranean, along with the translation of holy texts and the emergence of vernaculars. This section also pays tribute to translators, the forgotten agents of culture.
In the third section, Translatables/Untranslatables, we examine works which might be described as enigmatic to explore why some languages resist translation.