ROCHESTER NY--A new multi-lingual audio project is bringing together stories reflecting on the year 2020, and redefining archival work in the process.
"The Warp & Weft" is an open-ended, creative archival project curated by multidisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker Mara Ahmed. The archive includes dozens of short audio pieces produced by people of diverse backgrounds in Rochester and beyond.
Our arts and culture reporter Abi Clark recently spoke with curator Mara Ahmed about her vision for the project, and how it all came together.
Abi Clark: What was the inspiration for the archive?
Mara Ahmed: So the idea for The Warp & Weft really came to me last year, in September 2020. And I just felt that 2020 was such an unusual year for so many reasons. There was the pandemic of course, which had brought to light and exacerbated the inequities that exist in this country, as well as all across the world. There was fascism which seemed to be making a global comeback. But then there was also pushback against this throughout the world. And particularly in the United States there was this Black-led movement that wanted revolution, that wanted to change the system. I wanted to be able to capture all of this in some way. And so I came up with the idea of creating an archive where people from different backgrounds--geographically in different parts of the world and in different languages as well--would tell stories or experiences or ideas or emotions that they were engaging with in 2020.
AC: Can you give us some insight on the project's name? Why Warp & Weft?
MA: For this project I thought that The Warp & Weft was such an ideal name because it's about weaving, it's about all of the threads being equally important in maintaining the integrity of the fabric. And how even if one thread is taken out, the whole fabric begins to unravel. So the archive is also this beautiful sort of bringing together and melting and blending of many different stories and voices. We are so deeply connected to one another and I wanted to sort of highlight that connection.
AC: I really think that's such a fitting and beautiful representation of what this project is trying to accomplish and it leads into my next question. You said that the voices that are featured in this project are all different backgrounds, different cultures, even from different countries. What made you decide to do a multi-lingual archive and why not overdub all the audio in English?
MA: There are so many other languages and cultures and traditions and ways of being and thinking that are equally valuable and important, and we need that. To keep the main audio recording in a language other than English and not dubbing over or asking people to translate in English--the reason that I did that was because of this idea that I like a lot, this idea of "opacity." In the West we feel that we are entitled to read everything and understand everything. Like we feel like we have the right to that legibility. And it shouldn't be that way. It's okay if something is not immediately understandable. And the fact that it's not understandable doesn't make it threatening. It's not dangerous because it's not understandable. That's just the way the world is. There is so much complexity and diversity and richness in the world that there will always be things that we do not understand. And it's okay to live with that knowledge that we would not understand everything. So that's why I wanted to keep the stories in their original language. We did provide a [written] translation. But the main story and the recording are in the native tongue of that person.
AC: There is another layer included in the archive--other artists creating pieces responding to the original audio stories. Both will become part of the archive. What made you decide to invite other artists to participate in this way?
AM: That was really important to me because I'm very aware of the fact that the whole idea of the archive is very problematic. Because someone is making decisions about what would be included in the archives and what would be excluded, what is important and what is not important, and the story that the archive is telling is all controlled.
So with this archive I did still want to have some kind of interactivity between the archive and the people who were going to be using it or listening to the stories. And the way that I thought that I could do that was to invite artists to look at the archive, listen to the stories, and then react to some of the stories through some form of art. So we have visual artists who have created art as a response. We have a choreographers and dancers who have created a performance or some kind of movement phrase that's inspired by what they read. And then we have musicians who have done that. And that I feel has sort of taken away some of that rigidity. And it has opened it up a little bit. And so I very much hope that it will be a living organic thing that will continue to grow.
THE WARP & WEFT launches on Thursday, March 4th in partnership with the Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo). Over the next two months, a few stories will be published to the archive each week and shared on RoCo's social media.
Reclaiming the Narrative will also broadcast stories from the Warp & Weft archive on our weekly broadcast/podcast.