Endangered Alphabets Marks International Mother Language Day
Writer, artist, and Champlain College professor Tim Brookes blends linguistics, calligraphy, politics and art in an exhibition that opens on the college campus on Feb. 21, International Mother Languages Day–a day that celebrates the principles of embracing diversity and cultural acceptance on a global scale.
The exhibition will be on the second floor of the Communications and Creative Media building on the Champlain campus. It will run from February 20-March 10, and will be open to the public as well as to the Champlain community. Official gallery hours for the public are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturdays, though members of the Champlain community may visit it at any time.
The exhibition is the latest manifestation of Brookes’ Endangered Alphabets Project. The project aims to draw attention to the importance of preserving regional and minority cultures worldwide by using their writing systems to make hand-carved artwork. Since the project was founded in 2010, he has made more than 100 carvings in almost all the world’s minority or threatened scripts, and those carvings have been displayed in colleges, universities and libraries all over North America including the Smithsonian Institution.
“It’s great that the show will be an important part of the Champlain student experience,” Brookes said. “International Mother Language Day is all about drawing attention to the way we see minorities and indigenous peoples, and at this moment in history that’s a vital issue.”
On February 21, 1952 a group of students led a protest at the University of Dhaka in support of the right of Bengalis to use their own language. Police opened fire on the crowd, and at least four students were killed. On the same day in 2009, the United Nations proclaimed February 21 as International Mother Language Day, calling on member states “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages.”
When a culture is denied the right or the ability to use its own language, the identity and accumulated wisdom of that culture are, at the very least, endangered. So it is the goal of Brookes’ Endangered Alphabets Project to ensure that these declining languages and the cultures from which they originate are carried on for generations to come.
“The apparently simple task of creating a set of carvings of a selection of scripts raises a remarkable number of historical, social, aesthetic, and linguistic insights into the nature of writing,” David Crystal, author of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, wrote of Brookes’ work. “It is of course the aesthetic that grabs people’s attention. I own one of his carvings – of a Welsh proverb – and everyone who sees it admires its beauty and its message. It brings the message home in a unique and immediate way. And this is the universal reaction from anyone who has seen one of Tim’s carvings, in his various exhibitions and online.”