Mijn Naam is Taal – Nijmegen

2021–22 Video installation

This video edition was recorded in the civil affairs building of the municipality of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. An important notion in the script is the effect of state-imposed language bans. Over the centuries, the prohibition of Yiddish, Surinamese, and Dutch Sign Language in Dutch education has left its marks on naming in those language communities.

The work also includes stories about the linguistic transparency of Turkish names, the prevalence of names that ease assimilation within the Dutch mainstream, names signs in Deaf communities, Hindu nationalism and names, the adaptation of names after a gender change, and the intricacy of online usernames.

The characters speak Dutch, Arabic, Hindi, English, Sranan Tongo (Surinamese), Hebrew, Tamazight (Berber), French, NGT (Dutch Sign Language), German, and Turkish. It is subtitled in English, Dutch, and NGT.

The video is presented on a large screen, with three adjacent screens presenting English and Dutch subtitles, spelled-out names, and an NGT-signed version of the names. The installation includes a seating area in the same design as the public seating in the video.

Co-produced by and presented at the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen.

With Ibrahim Ben Hadi, Tomer Pawlicki, Ceren Uzuner, Manoushka Zeegelaar Breedveld, Kenneth Phillip George, Sarah Shamseldin, Marie-France Vodikulwakidi, Lidewij Mahler, Jip Hamer, Ali Shafiee, Sam Alqalqueely and Ilse Jobse.

Mijn Naam is Taal – Amsterdam

2021 Live performance with live stream

This live edition took place in a museum room in which a waiting room set was built. It concentrated on the effects of immigration—historical and current—and on the languages and names of Amsterdam.

The script included historical accounts about Berber names in Morocco and about the imposition of last names in Suriname. Contemporary stories addressed how Dutch immigration officials often wrongly transliterate Arabic names and how social class can be traced in first names.

The characters spoke Dutch, Arabic, Hindi, English, Sranan Tongo, Hebrew, Tamazight, and French. The work was subtitled in English. Due to a lockdown, it was performed for a limited live audience, and streamed via YouTube.

Co-produced by the Amsterdam Museum and presented at the Amsterdam Museum.

With Ibrahim Ben Hadi, Tomer Pawlicki, Kenneth Phillip George, Marie-France Vodikulwakidi, Jip Hamer, Hala Humida, Chrisje Comvalius and Chava Voor in ’t Holt.

Mijn Naam is Taal – Antwerpen

2020 Live performance with live stream

This live edition was set in the waiting room of an unspecified institution, recreated in a museum space. As part of an exhibition about monoculture, it focused on efforts to singularize culture and language in Europe over the past century.

The script included stories about the names and languages of Belgian miners, the absence of first names among a specific generation of Congolese Belgians, and the naming practices in Orthodox Judaism in Europe. It also told how Flemish nationalists drop their French first names in favor of Flemish ones.

The piece was performed in Dutch, French, German, Russian, English, Hindi, Farsi, Irish, and Hebrew. It was subtitled in English.

Due to a lockdown, it was performed for a limited live audience, and streamed via Facebook and YouTube.

Co-produced by and presented at the M HKA in Antwerp.

With Alona Umanskaya, Ivana Noa, Joris Bultnyck, Kenneth Phillip George, Marie-France Vodikulwakidi Kiabelo, Nazanin Fakoor and Jacques de Bock.

Mein Name ist Sprache – Oberhausen

2019 Video installation

This video edition was presented for several weeks as an installation in the town hall of Oberhausen. In line with “territories,” the wider theme of the exhibition project, and due to its placement within the actual resident registration office of the city, the work included personal accounts of the institutionalization of names.

Stories were told about the mistranslation of names during immigration procedures, about the assignment of names to women by men upon entering a Catholic monastery, and about forced assimilation and “germanization” of Polish names.

The piece was performed in German, Polish, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Farsi, Irish, Hindi, and English. It was subtitled in English and German.

In a film studio, stories were staged by two performers in front of two separate cameras. In the resulting multiscreen installation, they appear to be responding to each other. 

English and German subtitles, as well as spelled-out names, were shown on adjacent screens. The work was integrated into the furniture and wall fittings of the waiting room in the town hall. Audience members sat among people waiting for their turn to register themselves in the city.

Co-produced by Urbane Künste Ruhr and presented during Ruhr Ding in Oberhausen. Recorded at PACT Zollverein in Essen.

With Jürgen Mikol, Paulo Queiroz, Sabine Weibel, Kenneth Phillip George, Banfshe Hourmazdi, Serge Fouha, Marim Alale, Wolfgang Schloesser and Áine Ní Laoghaire.

My Name Is Language – Dublin

2018 Live performances and video

This live edition was a duo-production with the live edition that took place in Graz in the same month. It was conceived as a broader international overview about naming, while also containing specific Irish stories.

As such, it included stories about: naming in Nigeria, Mongolia, India, and the Basque Country; the pronunciation of names in English-language newscasts; the prevalence of the name Maria in and outside Ireland; the bardic tradition, where the names of the person who commissioned a song and the names of all his knows ancestors are recited; and the translation of Irish names into English under British rule. An excerpt from Brian Friel’s play Translations was incorporated into the script.

The piece was staged in a waiting room in the Dublin City Council civic offices outside office hours, using the existing furniture and fittings. Due to the small seating capacity of the space, three back-to-back live performances were set each day.

The piece was performed in English, Irish, Urhobo, Hindi, German, Polish, Spanish, and German. It was subtitled in English.

Co-produced by the Project Arts Centre in Dublin and presented at the Dublin Theatre Festival (live) and Rua Red (video).

With Dagmar Baar, Natalia Cooper, John Doran, Kamila Dydyna, Shadaan Felfeli, Nandini Gupta, Tiny James, Martin Quell, Mo Murray and Áine Ní Laoghaire.

Mein Name ist Sprache – Graz

2018 Live performances

This live edition was staged at the University of Graz. As a duo-production with the live edition in Dublin that same month, it was conceived as a broader international overview about naming, containing some specific Austrian stories.

As such, it included stories about: naming in Togo, Afghanistan, and Syria; the names Adolf and Kevin; the Austrian practice of replacing names with professional titles; and the “germanization” of names in Slavic languages.

The piece was performed in a public area that was converted into a waiting room, using the existing furniture and fittings. Due to the small seating capacity of the space, three back-to-back live performances were set each day.

The piece was performed in German, Farsi, Croatian, Arabic, English, Irish, and Urhobo. It was subtitled in English.

Produced by and presented at the steirischer herbst in Graz.

With Huda Alsaka, Fofo Bakou, Martin Brachvogel, Heide Gaidoschik, Eugen Gross, Tiny James, Jasmin Karami, Áine Ní Laoghaire, Irina Karamarkovic, Mina Palada, Mohsen Rezai.

Names can cross cultural boundaries in ways that most other words cannot, but they also be irrevocably altered in the process. Fixed in corporate and state systems more firmly than numeric tax IDs or IP addresses, names are generally no longer considered to be language but rather lexically opaque formulas. Indifferent authorities rephrase, re-order, and re-alphabetize names when they don’t fit the administrative standard. They are also known to deny rights to people without a stable name label.

In this series of works, names are treated as spelled and translatable identity markers as well as spoken word. They are based on hundreds of conversations, all of which started with the following three questions: “What is your name?” “Who gave it to you?” and “What does it mean in language?” These questions resulted in intimate observations about how names are affected by power struggles within politics, religion, education, and kinship systems.

The stories are retold by performers in the waiting rooms of bureaucratic institutions, places where names are, in actuality, collected, filed, inflicted, withdrawn, or adapted (such as a civil registry office or a municipal housing authority). In these performance works, listeners are mixed in with the speakers, none of whom uses the same (variety of) language. Names that are being spoken appear in writing on information screens overhead. Translations of all words and dialogue, including names, also appear on additional screens.

Mein Name ist Sprache in Graz – video excerpt

Mein Name ist Sprache

HUDA  Wie etwas ausgesprochen wird, interessiert jetzt keinen. Heute ist es sofort: „Pass!“ Sofort: „Buchstabieren!“ Mein Familienname ist Alsaka. Das ist Alsaka, nicht Alaska. Was auch immer passiert, ich höre: „Buchstabier bitte, buchstabier mir deinen Namen!“ Und so buchstabieren wir dann eine Stunde, und dann ist es manchmal immer noch falsch. Zweites Mal, drittes Mal, viertes Mal, es ist falsch. Bis es beim tausendsten Mal richtig ist.

(Nobody is interested now in how something is pronounced. Today it’s immediately: “Passport!” Immediately: “Spell it out!” My family name is the one who comes from Saka. !at is the one who comes from Saka, not the one who is a great land. Whatever happens, I always hear: “Spell it please, spell me your name!” And so we spell it for an hour, and then sometimes it’s still wrong. Second time, third time, fourth time it’s wrong. Until it’s right the thousandth time.)

PAULO  No Brasil, muita gente tem o mesmo sobrenome, como Santos ou Silva. Sabe o que eles fazem? Eles tentam criar nomes diferentes.

(In Brazil, a lot of people have the same surname such as the one who is of the saints or the one who is of the forest. Do you know what they do because of this? They try to think up great first names.)

Existem alguns exemplos bem famosos como, Umdoistrêsquatro.

(There are some well-known examples such as the one who is onetwothreefour.)

Ou Batman.

(Or the one who is Batman.)

Eu conheço um homem que batizou o nome das três filhas dele de Xerox, Autenticada e Fotocópia, porque ele viu na parede do Cartório esses nomes.

(I’ve heard of a man who named his daughters the one who Xeroxes, the one who has been certifed, and the one who photocopies because he had seen those words on the wall of the Registry Office.)

Já um outro que morava perto da costa, batizou o filho com o nome do primeiro barco que passou: Usnavy.

(And another man who lived by the coast, who named his son after the first passing boat: the one who is the United States Navy.)

Os pais podem registrar nomes de dança, de clãs, de espíritos, nomes de uma imposição colonial. Além disso, ainda existem nomes originários dos oeste africano como Yampew ou Ayashe que são embaraçosos de propósito, para que ninguém queira roubar essa criança.

(Parents can register dance names, clan names, spirit names, names of the colonial imposition. Also, there are still names of West African origin like we don’t want you or let it be abandoned that are embarrassing on purpose, so that nobody would want to steal that child.)

Minha mãe é do nordeste do Brasil. Há lugares por onde, curiosamente, as pessoas têm nomes que parecem um pouco ingleses. Isso é uma conseqü.ncia da colonização e de toda a história da globalização e do idioma inglês. Eu tenho uma prima que se chama Kinjersey. O pai dela disse que o nome dela signi”ca “rainha.” Mas não é verdade. Minha própria mãe queria me chamar de Jefferson.

(My own mother is from the northeast of Brazil. There are places there where, funnily enough, people have names that sound a bit English. That’s a consequence of the colonization, and the whole story with globalization and the English language. I have a cousin called the one who is a kinjersey. Her father said her name means “queen.” But it doesn’t. My own mother wanted to name me son of the one who pledges peace.)

Até 10 anos atrás não existia a letra y e w no dicionário Português. Mas para nomes, todo mundo já usava o y em vez de i, porque soa um pouco mais em inglês. Como Mychelly. Ou Jennyfer. As pessoas criam um nome e o abrasileiram. Como Leide Daiana, de Lady Diana. Brucewillis, de Bruce Willis.

(Until 10 years ago, the letters y and w didn’t exist in the Portuguese dictionary. But for names, everyone already used y instead of i, because they sound a bit more English. Like the one who is God-like. Or the one who is a fair lady. Or people take a name and then Brazilianise. Like the one who is Lady Diana, from the lady who is divine. !e one who is Bruce Willis, from the one who is a thick brush, who lives near a well.)

Mas há uma mudança acontecendo. Os nomes em inglês costumavam ser muito chiques, mas hoje é quase um pouco embaraçoso se sua mãe escolheu um nome assim. Certamente, muito depende também da classe social: os ricos e poderosos sempre preferiram nomes coloniais, como Pedro ou João.

(But there is a change happening. English-like names used to be very fancy but today, it’s almost a bit embarrassing if your mother picked you such a name. Of course, much depends also on social class: the rich and powerful always preferred colonial names such as the one who is a stone or God is gracious, anyway.)

Script excerpt from Mein Name ist Sprache in Oberhausen

Mijn Name is Taal in Nijmegen – video excerpt
Mein Name ist Sprache in Oberhausen – excerpt
My Name is Language book cover

My Name is Language

NANDINI  Kai log apna kulnaam hata dete hain. Malcolm X ki tara pratirodh kaa roop dhaarann karte hain. X uske purvi Afriki purvajon ke bhoole hue naam kaa pratinidhitv karta tha jinhe Amerika me gulaam banaaya gaya tha. X us kulnaam ko chinhit karta tha. Vah us rikt sthaan ke liye tha.

(Sometimes people un-name themselves. For the one who is the dove’s disciple who is X, it was a form of resistance. !e X represented the lost name from his West African ancestors who were enslaved in America. The X marked the spot where that name had been. It indicated an absence.)

Kisi ko naam se nahi pukaarna, kisi kaa naam cheen lena, vyakti ko apmaanit karne jaisa hai. Sanskritik paramparaayen chahen kuchch bhi ho, lekin yh ek sacchai hai. Main ek mahila sahaayta kendra me kaam karti hoon. Ham sabhi prishthbhumi aur vargon se mahilaon ko gharelu hinsa se peedit dekhte hain. Aur aksar we hamen yh bataate hain: “sabse pehle wh mujhe naam se bulaana band kar deta hai aur phir maarne lagta hai.

(To take a name away, to un-name somebody, is to dehumanize somebody. This is true whatever the cultural conventions. I work in a women’s aid center, and we see women from all backgrounds and classes who suffer from domestic violence. And very often they tell us this: “First he stopped calling me by my name, and then he started beating me up.”)

Europe me shaadi ke baad mahilaon ke upnaam badalne kaa prachlan hai. Aisa unhone haal hi me French dabaav ke tahat karna shuru kiya tha. Ucch varg prabhaavshaali parivaaron ke naamon ko niyantrit karna chaahte the. To saamaanya roop se yh hukumataur sampatti ke saath sambandhit tha. Aur phir unhone sabhi logon ko is praatha ko apnaane ke liye jor daala. Aur ise vibhinn upniveshvadon ke maadhyam se duniya bhar me phailaaya. Arab, Persia aur purvi Africa ke log aisa nahi karte hain. Spain ke log bhi aisa nahi karte hain. Lekin Bharat ke log aisa karte hain.

(It’s prevalent in Europe that women change the surname after marriage. It was under French influence that they started doing that. !e upper classes wanted to co-opt the names of powerful families. So, as usual, it was all to do with power and property. And then they pressed that custom on to everybody else. And through various colonialisms, they spread it around the world. Arabs and Persians and East Africans don’t do it. Spanish don’t do it. But people in India do.)

Kai baar Bharatiya mahilaaon ko apna pehla aur antim naam bhi badalna padta hai. Mujhe ek mitra mila aur uska vivaah ek Sikh parivaar me hua. Woh ek prem vivaah tha. Uska naam Gauri tha aur phir wah Navdeep yaa aisa hi kuchch me badal gaya. Usne apna driving license aur passport aur anya sabhi dastavejon ko badla.

(At times, women even change both first and last names in India. I have a friend who married into a Sikh family. That was a so-called love marriage. Her name was the one who is white and then it was changed into the one who is a new name or something. She replaced her driving license and passport.)

Antarjaateey vivaah hone par aisi ghatnaayen badh jati hain. Hamaari praacheen bhaashaa Sanskrit hai aur ham wahi se Hindu naam lete hain. Islami naam Arabi se liye jaate hain. Isaai naam Latin aadhaarit hote hain. Aur Sikh logon ke naam Punjabi bhaasha se liye jaate hain. Yadi main ek Hindu hoon aur kisi Musalmaan yaa Sikh ke saath vivaah karti hu to mera naam badal diya jayega. Mujhe Muslim parivaar me Sana yaa Sikh parivaar me Sarabjeet kaa naam diya jaa sakta hai. Yh koi anuvaad nahi hota hai, dharm ke anusaar yeh poori tarah se alag naam hota hai.

(It occurs very frequently when there is an interreligious marriage. Our ancient language is Sanskrit and from there we take the Hindu names. Islamic names are taken from Arabic. Christian names are rooted in Latin. And for Sikh, they are taken from Punjabi. So I am a Hindu and if I get married to a Muslim or to a Sikh, I change my name. I might become the one who is radiant in a Muslim family or the one who wins everything in a Sikh family. It’s not a translation, it’s a completely different name according to the religion.)

Mera matlab hai ki yh acchi baat hai ki hum ek doosre ki sanskriti ko apnaate hain, lekin uske liye hamen kisi naye naam ko rakhne ki aavashyaktaa nahi hai. Aap koi vastu nahi hain jise ek sthaan se doosre sthaan par transfer kiya jaa sake. Aur sadiyon se mahilaaen yeh chhup-chap sveekar karte aaye hain!

(I mean, it’s good that we adopt some of each other’s culture, but you don’t have to be showcased with a new name. You are not a kind of object that is transferred from here to there. And women have just been accepting this quietly for centuries!)

Meri maa ne mere pita ko kabhi bhi unke pehle naam se nahi pukaara hai. Pata hai meri maa mere pita ko kaise bulaati hain? Nandini ke papa. Ve unhe kabhi bhi naam se nahi bulaati hai kyonki unhe yh adhikaar praapt nahi hai.

(My mother has never called my father by his first name. You know what my mother calls my father? The one who is the father of the one who is a delight. She never calls him by his name because naming is a sign of questioning authority, you see?)

Usi samay, mere pita meri maa ko har samay unke naam se hi pukaarte hain. Kai sanskritiyon me, ghar ke bade bachche ke naam se uske mata-pita ko sambodhit kiya jaata hai. Aapko Anita ke papa, yaa Anita ki maa bulaaya jayega. Is prakaar se aap ateet ki bajaay bhavishya se naam praapt karte hain. Beshak, bade bachche ke naam se uske mata-pita ko sambodhit karne se mata-pita ka sammaan hi hota hai. Lekin isse aapka vyaktitv heen ho jaata hai. Aap ek kaarya hain. Ek shrenee.

(At the same time, my father calls my mother by her name all the time. In many cultures, an adult must have a child whose name provides a teknonym. You are called the one who is the father of the one who is unguided. Or the one who is the mother of the one who is unguided. In that way you receive a name from the future rather than the past. Of course, a teknonym honors parenthood. But it also depersonalizes. You are a function. A category.)

Bharat me, mahilaaon ka parivaar me koi khaas sthaan nahi hota hai. Vivaah ke pramaanpatron me mahila kaa pehla naam likha ho saktaa hai. Lekin uske bachchon ke janm pramaanpatron me kewal pita ka kulnaam likha hota hai. Un sthaanon par bhi jahaan mahilaaon ke adhikaaron ko sammaan diya jaata hai, logon ko mahilaaon ke kulnaam ki jaankaari nahi hoti hai. Isse mool roop se aapke parivaar kaa aadha vansh-vriksh avruddh ho jaata hai.

(In India, the female family lines are incredibly hard to trace. On marriage certificates, a woman’s maiden name can be included. But on the birth certificates of her children, only the surname of the father would be documented. Even in places where women’s rights are better taken care of, people don’t tend to know their mother’s maiden name. That basically blocks half of your family tree.)

Aap rozaana ke kaaryon me itne vyast ho jaate rehte hain aur aap kai logon ko jaante hain. Lekin aap apni maa aur daadi kaa poora naam bhool jaate hain? Aap itne diskanekt kaise ho sakte hain?

(You are so caught up in everyday life and you know so many people, but the full names of your mother and your grandmothers you forget? How can you be so disconnected?)

Script excerpt from My Name is Language in Dublin, Oberhausen, Antwerp and Amsterdam