Bureau of Linguistic Reality performance
FOREIGN LANGUAGE MAGIC WORD MOTHER TONGUE is a poly-lingual exhibition, featuring artists and performers investigating the relationships between language, culture and identity. Curated by The New Urban Naturalists, FOREIGN LANGUAGE MAGIC WORD MOTHER TONGUE (MAGIC WORD) is the third and final exhibition in the 2016–2017 season of the SOMArts Curatorial Residency.

Opening with a free public reception on Thursday, March 9, 6–9 pm, MAGIC WORD seeks to leverage the power and intimacy of language to foster cross-cultural understanding. At a time when polylingualism is increasingly viewed as a threat rather than a strength, MAGIC WORD reveals the strength and resilience inherent in cultural and linguistic diversity.

“The multiple means by which the artists in MAGIC WORD approach language — through video, found objects, flags, sculpture, documentary film, and performance — is only matched by the myriad perspectives highlighted in the exhibition, revealing language’s impact on every aspect of our community and ecology, personal, social, and political lives,” notes Sasha Petrenko, Artistic Director of the New Urban Naturalists.

The opening reception on March 9 will feature an interactive performance installation by The Bureau of Linguistic Reality, as well as performances by Tommy Becker and Christy Chan.

Michael Arcega
Michael Arcega’s installation “The New Colossus” is a translation of the poem by Emma Lazurus that is engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Each syllable of the poem has been replaced by an artifact from American culture, creating a visual poem out of found objects.

The Bureau of Linguistical Reality was established by Alicia Escott and Heidi Quante as a participatory social practice performance — where artists work with the public to create new words to describe ineffable emotions and experiences. Their performance at the opening reception will establish MAGIC WORD as a field office for the Bureau of Linguistic Reality throughout the run of the exhibition.

Jamil Hellu
Jamil Hellu’s single-channel video “I…” features the artist learning how to speak Arabic words and phrases for the first time. Exploring the intersection of the artist’s Syrian lineage and queer identity, Hellu’s work seeks to expand and explode stereotypical representations of both gay and Middle Eastern narratives.

Cristina Victor
Unlike traditional flags that symbolize ideology and nationalism, Cristina Victor’s series of sewn flags for “EMF (Emotional Mistranslation Flag)” seek to represent the emotional loss and mourning of mistranslation.

Desiree Holman
Multidisciplinary artist Desiree Holman’s “Chicken with Duck Speaking” imagines the process of learning a new language as a liminal space that allows the learner to question culturally determined assumptions about their society. Her performance at the closing reception on April 6 will further explore the process of language acquisition.

Public programs in conjunction with the exhibition include a film screening of Anita Chang’s documentary Tongues of Heaven on Saturday, March 18, 1–4 pm and a closing reception with performances by Desiree Holman and choreographer Melissa Lewis on Thursday, April 6, 6–9pm.


Michael Arcega
Tommy Becker
The Bureau of Linguistical Reality
Anita Chang
Christy Chan
Jamil Hellu
Darrin Martin
Cristina Victor
Sasha Petrenko

Tommy Becker
Christy Chan
Desiree Holman
Melissa Lewis


Opening Reception
Thursday, March 9, 6–9pm
The opening night celebration features performance activations by The Bureau of Linguistic Reality, Tommy Becker and Christy Chan.

Film Screening & Web Performance
Saturday, March 18, 1–4pm
Join MAGIC WORD artists and curators for a panel and audience discussion of Tongues of Heaven, Anita Chang’s documentary on threatened languages.

Closing Reception & Performances
Thursday, April 6, 6–9pm
Celebrate the exhibition’s closing with multi-media performances exploring language loss, acquisition and cultural de-centering by media artist Desiree Holman and choreographer Melissa Lewis.

Image credits (from top to bottom): The Bureau of Linguistic Reality, photo still from performance, image courtesy of the artists; “The New Colossus,” Michael Arcega, image courtesy of the artist; “I…,” Jamil Hellu, digital video still, image courtesy of the artist; “EMF (Emotional Mistranslation Flag),” Cristina Victor, image courtesy of the artist; “Chicken with Duck Speaking,” Desiree Holman, image courtesy of the artist.