MOTHERTONGUE: Celebrating Diversity!

Written by Ma. Yohana Frias (Philippines, ITP 2018)

Have you ever walked into a room, feeling immediately like you do not belong? Whether it’s because of your clothing choice, the accent you have, a different language you speak, or even cultural-specific behaviours that make you feel “another”? Instead of trying to fit in, perhaps it is these differences that make us interesting.

Photograph of large scale wall text panels.

This diversity that connects us all is central to the exhibition entitled MOTHERTONGUE, which celebrates cultural differences based on identity, language, and tradition. On the 23rd of May 2024, my classmates and I, students of MA Heritage and Exhibition Design and Design for Interactive Experience, launched this exhibition at the Merchiston Campus of Edinburgh Napier University. The master’s program encourages a practical approach to students’ learning, making this exhibition not just a final project but also as a contribution for the annual art degree show of the university. 

In seven days, 14 students from 9 countries installed their individually crafted artworks, managing not just their own works but also the thematic narrative, visual language, online marketing, and overall exhibition layout. 

The first of the three sub-themes explores how language and dialect serve as indicators of identity and belonging. Acacia Marchienne Anthony (South Africa) interpreted this theme with sound and tactile interactives—touching the books changes the animation of projections to show how fantasy literature have influenced her identity as a South African of Indian heritage. Similarly, my own work (Philippines) of dictionary pages with words of Tagalog language redacted represents my mother tongue being replaced by English due to colonisation and media influences. Caitlin Snowden’s (Scotland) artwork allows visitors to have a deeper understanding of her experiences with dyslexia, such as reading difficulties and spelling mistakes shown through an eye tracking video and prints on transparent paper. Catriona Storey’s (England) fabric and sound installation highlights the feeling of revertigo—in the context of language, it is when someone slips back into a sense of comfort and familiarity, including a change in tone of voice and use of colloquialisms when meeting someone from the same place or hometown. Pooja Shah (India) showcases the identity of the city she grew up in, Ahmedabad, through its diverse signage landscape.

The next section is Tradition and Culture. Manpreet Kaur (India) narrates the mandatory wearing of turbans for male members of the Sikh religion while Daljit Kaur (India) displays the Phulkari, the equivalent mandatory head covering for females of the Sikh religion. Oluwatosin Adeyemi (Nigeria) also features a flowing gown of the Yoruba people, known for its use among kings, chiefs, and honourable men during celebrations. Wu Jiahui (China) highlights the power of the dragon imagery and the beauty of Chinese characters and similarly, Amir Hajjam’s (Iran) installation features the iconic Faravahar, a symbolic and sacred representation of Ahura Mazda, the creator deity of Zoroastrianism central to Iranian culture.

The last sub theme, Language and Typography, features highly stylised and interactive works such as that of Mhairi Muir’s (UK) installation of posters she designed using poetry taught in Scottish primary schools as a campaign to encourage people to use the Scots language in their daily life. Kelsie Baird (UK) and Mhairi Mhuir formed the visual language and branding of the Mother Tongue exhibition, centred around the motif of the mouth. Réjane Schrago’s (Switzerland) interactive experience allows visitors to listen to the pronunciation of letters and words of her Swiss German tongue. Last but not the least, Natalia Saláis Carrasco’s (Mexico) interactive installation allows visitors to customise a rutera (public transport buses in Juarez) reminiscent of how drivers design their own vehicles as a reflection of personal tastes, humour, and cultural values. 

Photograph of a 3D printed model of the exhibition

A 3D printed model of the exhibition is also displayed at the centre of the exhibition, a glimpse of the process and preparation that the master’s students have gone through to make this exhibition possible.

MOTHERRTONGUE ran from 24th to the 30th of May 2024 – an international exhibition of celebrating diversity and a reminder to proudly wear our individuality and unique cultural heritage.