Posted February 24, 2021

Youmna Chlala on Multilingualism, Text & Image in The Paper Camera

Image of artwork by Youmna Chlala titled How Many Tongues Does It Take to Make a Colour, 2018. A purple neon sign that reads here we cut tongues hangs on a simple wooden structure. One sees an open sea and hills through the stucture.

Here’s a snippet from Mónica de la Torre’s interview of Youmna Chlala at BOMB Magazine:

Mónica de la Torre: You’re a polyglot working with multiple languages—verbal (French, English, Arabic), two-dimensional (drawing, photography, film), and three-dimensional (performance, sculptures, installations). You bring some of these together in The Paper Camera, which intersperses film stills of urban exteriors and of windows seen from inside an apartment among poems with writing in your three languages. What is possible to articulate in one language that is not possible in another? Do you think they supplement each other, or is their relationship somewhat adversarial, or both?

Youmna Chlala: I am most comfortable using three languages together when I speak. That is the closest I get to a familial tongue. When I wrote essays at university, I was marked up for having run-on sentences. This was associated with my English as a third language. The way to express oneself clearly was through short, concise sentences. I had to undo length or meandering or the complications of expression. I think that rather than rebel by insisting on long sentences, I now take apart and recontextualize language as a form. It’s also a kind of political act about the vitality of complexity, uncertainty, and speculation.

Because The Paper Camera’s centripetal force is Beirut, language as sound or snippet, memory as presence or light, stilled images contending with flux time, and fragments of individual and collective selves are rearticulated through adjacency. Formally, text and image exist in proximity not to reinforce each other’s meaning but to expand it.

Keep reading.


from “Igniting the Relational: Youmna Chlala Interviewed by Mónica de la Torre.” BOMB Magazine. Jan 21, 2021.