What would true diversity sound like?

What would true diversity sound like?
What does the United States’ population sound like? One type of answer would be provided by Census language data. However, numbers can’t capture all factors in play-assimilation, past and present language, and who is prioritized. This is what multidisciplinary artist Ekene Ijeoma, along with his group Poetic Justice from the MIT Media Lab, are exploring in their ongoing participatory project “A Counting.” We were thinking about what it means for us to count and be counted. Also, how the Census historically undercounts and underrepresented marginalized communities,” says Ijeoma. “And we were thinking what a poetic response would be.”

Presented online and in person at spaces like Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum and the Museum of the City of New York, the artwork features audio recordings of 100 individuals counting from 1 to 100 in a variety of languages, accompanied by a transcription in white lettering on a black screen. Localized versions reflect the linguistic contexts of New York City and St. Louis, Houston, Omaha and Ogden, Utah as well as the US as a whole. A sign language version is also in development.

Most voices are recorded by people who called in to record their voices. Ijeoma says that the algorithm was developed by the Poetic Justice team. It “selects and weighs languages that are least recorded so that they can be heard more often.” As new recordings are made, the video changes.

“A counting” is the latest of a series of artworks that use Ijeoma’s experience in information technology to transform cold data into something filled with emotion. “I want to create an updated portrait. He says, “What better way to do it than with contemporary tools and technologies–those of analysis and visualization–not in an literal but poetic way?”

The first word in “A Counting” is always spoken in an indigenous language from the area being represented. This meant that the New York City edition had to use the voice of someone who is no longer living. When Ijeoma and his crew reached out to the Lenape (Manhattan’s original inhabitants), they received a recording featuring Nora Thompson Dean, also known as. Weenchipahkihelexkwe, one of the last fluent speakers of the southern Unami dialect of Lenape, who died in 1984. The recording provided by the Lenape Center expands the project beyond a “living portrait” of the land’s current population. It invites viewers and listeners, as well as the Lenape Center, to consider how this nation came about and who has been lost along the way.

Ultimately, Ijeoma says, the project “is really a speculation on what it would sound like if this were a truly united society.”

To participate in “A Counting,” call 844-959-3197, or for the sign language version, visit the website a-counting.us/sign to record yourself.

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