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Composite Utterances

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Edition 1. Collection of works created in response to Bernard Koechlin’s life, work and archive. 

It has a single protagonist (though in every story there are thousands of protagonists, visible and invisible, alive and dead).

The Ethnographer, Jorge Luis Borges

Bernard Koechlin was a French mariner and ethnographer (1928-2007), who coined the term “ethnogestics,” which envisions a shared gestural language among the people of the Indian Ocean.

Koechelin’s fascination with the Maldives sprouted during his time among the Vezo fishing community of Madagascar. It was a map of the Indian Ocean, specifically the atolls of the Maldives suspended in a vast expanse that captivated him.

Driven by a desire to learn the Maldivian language and carve a niche within ethnolinguistics, Koechelin moved to the Maldives in the 1970s. Living amongst the Maldivians, navigating on boats that traversed between the capital, Malé, and various destinations carrying goods, Koechelin documented a distinct seafaring culture. His archive offers glimpses into the situations he engaged in, navigating not just the physical waters but also the nuanced currents of non-verbal sensibilities—interpreting and responding to the environment, sounds, gestures, gazes, expressions, postures, and attire.

I came across this eclectic collection during a conversation with my friend Maizan Adam Maniku, while engaged in a project centered on preserving the tangible cultural heritage of Fuvahmulah, one of the southernmost islands in the Maldives. Adam received this fascinating assortment of 35mm slides, 8mm video reels, notes, and papers in both French and English from Koechelin’s widow in 2007. I spent several days immersing myself in these materials in Adam’s study, the boxes of slides, prints, and documents transporting me as far back as the 1970s, into a time preceding my own life.

My exploration of Koechelin’s archive takes shape through a collaboration with three artists and an anthropologist. Together we shift the gaze towards him, examining his work through the lens of non-verbal communication. We invite the viewer on a journey that brushes our own cultural roots, pulled along by the silent eloquence of this vision of the past. Our situational definitions of gesture are constructed in broad terms to look beyond the human, animal and elemental divides. In effect, the gestalt nature of a single gesture can be interpreted across generational understandings, biases, and experiences of nature and historicity.

Participating Artists

  • Anastasiia Yakymenko and Kostek Strzelski
  • Mohamed Ikram
  • Ahmed Amir

Other Projects