Artist Imen Djouini shares an ongoing project that looks at the ways languages intermix and change on the Internet.
New Orleans-based artist Imen Djouini’s ongoing series, titled Rendre, explores the presence of the French language in former colonies in North Africa, particularly in Algeria. While Modern Standard Arabic is the country’s official language, inside the home, in social settings, and online, people weave in borrowed words from French and Berber to form a distinctly Algerian dialect. With this new set of images, Djouini is looking specifically at the ways languages visually mix on social media, where users often phonetically substitute Latin and Arabic characters, a process that subverts any one language’s power.
According to the artist, “Across the world, the Internet has increased the speed and accessibility of global communication. Today’s Algerians use language as a tool that has facilitated new ways of using a dynamic, creolized language, where multiple linguistic systems are interlaced to visualize a new set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences.” This new space is separate from the languages’ institutionally mandated sources—the government, schools, businesses, places of worship—challenging the authority created by contemporary nation states and their colonial histories. These playful web interactions also emphasize and question the ways that letters and words visually encode information, reminding us that we, as a society, have assigned and uphold their meanings.
Inspired by this politicized act of translation, Djouini has collaged screenshots to stage imagined conversations, reimagining letters as tools to shape new postcolonial identities that reflect the past, present, and future.