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‘Weighted words’

This exhibition, which examines the varied meanings of words with regard to their contexts, will be open until the 10th of June.


Nine different artists are participating in an exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection, which among other themes, explores the political power of words.

One of these artists, Anri Sala, explores the relationship between language and race, and his short film follows two Senegalese children in the process of learning vocabulary in their native Wolof. When his subjects are taught colour words – a vocabulary set which has its roots in Senegal’s French colonial past – the racist associations of the words for ‘black’ and ‘white’ prove problematic, and these must be taught differently.

Although some words such as ‘nigger’ and ‘fag’ have always been clearly recognised as hate speech, there are other words for which this distinction is not so clear.

Such is the case with the highly controversial word ‘cunt’. The artist Germaine Greer may use it as a simple interjection, but for many others it is reminiscent of pornography and disrespectful to women.

Another of these taboo words is ‘kaffir‘, a derogatory term which refers to the black citizens of South Africa. It is seen as so offensive in the country that, as of 1976, its use can land the speaker in court.

Strangely enough, it is unclear how this word came to be used as a racist insult. Its origin lies in an agricultural term meaning ‘to plant seeds’, and it was later used by Arab traders to describe the non-Muslims who inhabited the east and south of Africa.

The exhibition will be open to the public until Sunday the 10th of June at the Zabludowicz Collection (176 Prince of Wales Road, London, NW5 3PT). Free entry.

(Translated by Elspeth Nina Gillespie – elspethninagillespie@gmail.com)

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