Visiting “Colonial Colonnade,” an exhibit by artist Doris Bittar, at the Arab American National Museum

by | Dec 12, 2023 | Blog, Blog: General Humanities, Blog: Grants

The Arab American National Museum opened the exhibit “Colonial Colonnade” by artist Doris Bittar on November 9. I, Jennifer Sierra, was fortunate to attend the opening reception on November 10 and witness the live music and dance performances by Clarissa Bitar and Nadia Khayrallah. The performance and the exhibit felt like a warm embrace, which was welcomed by all the attendees that night. 

“Colonial Colonnade” focuses on patterns and language. It is interesting to think of language and patterns as separate at first glance, yet language cannot be without patterns. While every language system will always have room for exceptions and contradictions, the patterns and power of these patterns attract people like me to study language. Patterns in language give way to grammatical systems, communication genres, and a sense of knowing each other. However, language patterns can also become tools for exclusion and stereotyping. Shared patterns in the way that diverse populations speak become associated with ideas that we have about these groups. Linguistic patterns become a ground of “truth” for essentializing others. Bittar’s work with “Colonial Colonnade” invites this reflection.

The exhibit allows for touch and textures. Words in Arabic, English, and Spanish are superimposed, at times coexisting and at other times resisting or erasing each other. Such a visual play metaphorically captured my experience as a bilingual, navigating my everyday between Spanish and English. Learning a second language isn’t always the joyful experience of going abroad or simply learning a language for fun. As a migrant, one must learn the second language to survive. The more time I spend in my new home, the more languages compete. It is now common for me to forget words in both languages, so I am often without words. 

I am thankful to Doris Bittar and the Arab American National Museum for creating and bringing to life a timely installation that speaks to many human experiences existing at the margins. This exhibit visually and materially embodies what words cannot say alone. It reminds us that central to language is the background that renders it meaningful. I am also proud of the work of Michigan Humanities staff and board for helping fund this exhibit. The installation will be open until June 1, 2024, and the trip to Dearborn is well worth it.

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