May 26, 2021
Prompt 10) What challenges are raised by the dissemination and/ or communication of knowledge
Object 1: Exhibition: Indigo dyeing fabrics indigenous to Hmong tribe of Vietnam
Indigo fabric dyeing is a sacred process originally practiced by women of the H’mong tribe, one of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. The fabrics in the photo were created by some of the oldest members of the tribe and are mostly used for decoration, or as textiles for the production of traditional H’mong clothing. These fabrics can be recognised by the characteristic patterns and symbols embroidered in their designs.
Historically, indigo dye comes from indigofera plants, indigenous to Vietnam. These plants are cultivated, fermented and ground into powder or paste by hand using traditional Vietnamese ingredients such as rice water. Over the years this process has been passed through generations of H’mong women strengthening and bringing together communities. However, since 1883 we have understood how to chemically synthesise indigo, enabling mass production. This has resulted in a lack of appreciation and awareness for the traditional indigo dyeing process and its cultural significance. Over time, as the elderly women who are most familiar with this traditional process stop creating indigo dye the dissemination of this tradition is limited.
Evolution of knowledge is a natural processes, however, I think it is necessary to remind ourselves of the origins of our current knowledge. I chose this object because it feeds into a wider discussion on the potential loss of meaning when knowledge is over disseminated. Ethical considerations are relevant here as our attention is brought to the way knowledge has developed and been disseminated. This object enriches the exhibition by encouraging us to consider the extent to which currently shared knowledge should pay respect to its origin. In my opinion, we should make a conscious effort to disseminate knowledge more accurately, so we do not discount the evolution process it has undergone. In this example, The H’mong tribe represents the history of indigo dyeing which has unfortunately been forgotten by many.
Object 2: The Birth of Venus painting, Botticelli
The Birth of Venus, painted by Italian artist Botticelli in the 1480s illustrates the goddess Venus, arriving at shore after birth. Given it was painted over 500 years ago the artist’s intended meaning is not known, leading to several distinct interpretations. This introduces the discussion of the challenges that arise when these different interpretations are disseminated and communicated to others.
A number of interpretations have been suggested from a variety of experts by identifying ideas and symbols embedded within the painting. For example, the Greek poet Hesiod, said Venus was born out of sea foam and traveled to shore on a shell, pushed along by the breath of Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. His interpretation is focused on the mythological and magical beauty of this painting. However, others interpret it differently. For example, some Christians noticed that the Latin title for the Virgin Mary, stella maris, translates to star of the sea. This mirrors the story of the painting because Venus is born of the sea, just like Jesus Christ is born from Mary. These views introduce the possibility for endless, inconsistent interpretations and subsequently highlight the lack of control we have over the subjective interpretations of artworks.
A secondary question arises as to whether inconsistent interpretations devalue the overall message of the artwork or diminish its impact. This painting is included in my exhibition to argue that the differences of opinion that arise from the dissemination and communication of knowledge can in fact add value to a piece of artwork. I believe that the reason some paintings are so historically significant is because of the rich identity they acquire from the diverse opinions they inspire from viewers of all different times and places. The Birth of Venus is just one example in art that demonstrates the advantages when knowledge is so widely communicated and disseminated.
Object 3: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina is a novel originally written in Russian and later translated to English. Overall, there are 9 translated versions all slightly different from one another. As a bilingual, Russian and English speaker I was very interested to investigate these differences.
Every author has his or her unique idiosyncratic style of writing which is hard to stay true to during translation. For example in part 1 chapter 29 and part 2 chapter 21 of the Russian version, Anna and Vronsky use the exact same phrasing to describe how they are feeling, however, no translator picked up on this repetition. While this may not seem significant on its own, the build up of such small differences and modifications can lead to a lack of communication of the story as a whole, as well as a lack of representation of Tolstoys creative way of using language. In language, the true meaning of several words and phrases is often rooted in the cultural and historical knowledge that is typically exclusive to native speakers. This is particularly true for words with connotations that extend beyond their literal translation to secondary meanings. These subtle differences lost in translation pose many challenges to communication of knowledge. Anna Karenina is therefore included in this exhibition as an example of how the details lost in translation can alter the overall reading of a story and the loss of valuable knowledge.
Furthermore, Anna Karenina is a story with several interpretations unique to different groups of people. For example teenage girls might see the story as melodramatic, where as adults are more likely to pick up on the irony. Tolstoy also writes the story in a style that constantly changes our feelings towards each character. This opens up the possibility for endless interpretation and gives a responsibility to each translator not to communicate their bias in translation.
Image, Book cover, Amazon. Accessed April 20th 2021. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anna- Karenina-Penguin-Classics-Tolstoy/dp/0140449175
Image, “The Birth of Venus by Botticelli: Artworks: Uffizi Galleries.” The birth of Venus by Botticelli | Artworks | Uffizi Galleries. Accessed April 25th, 2021. https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/ birth-of-venus.
Image, Réhahn. “INTO THE LAND OF INDIGO: VIETNAM.” REHAHN, March 15, 2021. Accessed April 28th 2021. https://www.rehahnphotographer.com/indigo-vietnam/.