Mono-lingual speakers: Are you constantly reminded of your ignorance relative to cultured city-dwellers fluent in two, three or four languages? Do you curse your parents for not raising you in Berlin so as to equip you with a sufficient grasp on extra-American ways of life? Next time you’re at the South Street Seaport, take a break from the morbidly fascinating Bodies exhibit and check out the World Voices Project, a sonic installation that features the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights spoken in 50 different languages. You won’t stand a chance of understanding the myriad tongues and dialects, but neither will anyone else and for once you’ll fit right in.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Declaration’s ratification, which has since been translated into 369 languages. Artist Brenda Ray began the project two years ago and intends to record all of these translations in order to “express our common humanity through the intimate sound of voices.” Some of the recordings present several languages mixed together, creating something of a cultural mash-up of sounds your tongue can’t mimic. Don’t try.
Almost all of the installation’s speakers live in New York City or within a 30-mile radius. It continues through Aug. 3 from noon-7 p.m. on weekdays and noon-9 p.m. on weekends. The World Voices Project will then be displayed in other public spaces around the world.