Lingua Franca (The Classroom), 2001/2009

Lingua Franca (The Classroom)

Lingua Franca (The Classroom) is an English-as-Second-Language photo-text slide show where one is invited to ‘learn’ words by associating them with images.

Meaning is never neutral and is always contextual. For instance, one of the slides reads: “A Latin American city: Quebec.” Unexpected at first but not for long… If any place in the American continent that speaks a Latin language is a Latin American place, then Quebec should qualify. But we don’t really think of that city as Latin American. Why? Is Latin American a short cut for poor/ for race?

The image that defines “Chicana” is one of Wonder Woman, who, as it happens, was famously played on TV by the daughter of a Mexican. Thomas Mann appears as “Latino” (he being the son of a Brazilian). Each slide is an indictment of political assumptions that are implicit in the way that we use language, as well as a subversion of clear-cut borders on cultural definitions.


The first version of the piece was created when I first moved to the United States at a time when I did not speak any English yet. My intention was to be a professor of a subject I didn’t know, but also to subvert the very process of taking in a new language, which always brings a whole new world within it.

Projected underneath the slide show, and an integral part of the piece, is a video where I am attempting to learn how to pronounce the very difficult phoneme ‘TH,’ a good marker of foreignness in the United States. The words I chose to practice with, ‘there,’ ‘them,’ ‘then,’ ‘they,’ coupled with ‘I’ and ‘You’ address the ambiguous role of language as a tool of approximation and, at the same time, a tool that imposes politically charged concepts and therefore emphasizes distance.

here is the documentation of the first version of the piece as a solo show at School 33, Baltimore (curated by Janine Antoni):

The Classroom, 2001 version: