An exhibition of carved Vermont maple boards depicting many of the world's endangered forms of writing.
The world has between 6,000 and 7,000 languages, but as many as half of them will be extinct by the end of this century. Another and even more dramatic way in which this cultural diversity is shrinking concerns the alphabets in which those languages are written.
Writing has become so dominated by a small number of global cultures that those 6,000-7,000 languages are written in fewer than 100 alphabets. Moreover, at least a third of the world’s remaining alphabets are endangered–-no longer taught in schools, no longer used for commerce or government, understood only by a few elders, restricted to a few monasteries or used only in ceremonial documents, magic spells, or secret love letters.
The Endangered Alphabets Project is the first-ever attempt to bring attention to this issue--by creating an exhibition of 18"x12" carved and painted boards in stunning Vermont tiger maple that depict a variety of these vanishing scripts.
In each case, the text is the same–namely, Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1948 at the foundation of the United Nations: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The irony, of course, is that many of these forms of writing are endangered precisely because human beings do not always act towards one another in that spirit.
I've already created 14 of these boards. My goal is to double that number (a process that involves searching the world for the few people who can still read and write these vanishing scripts) and then take the exhibition on tour, to provoke thought and discussion on the importance of preserving traditional cultures.
Ideally, I'd raise enough money to take this exhibition to the countries where the scripts are still used: Indonesia, the West Bank, the Philippines, Vietnam, Canada, Liberia, Cameroon, Bangladesh, and the Cherokee Nation headquarters in Oklahoma. In many cases this will give attention and encouragement to small, dedicated groups of people trying to rescue or revive these vanishing art/text forms.
Will the exhibition be going out on tour through North America and Europe as well as the countries where these scripts originated?
One great by-product of this Kickstarter campaign is that I'm getting expressions of interest from all over the place. Once the dust settles I'll send out a message to all backers asking for their recommendations for places near you where the Alphabets might find a host. That already includes the US and I really hope it'll include Europe as well. As you know your area, and the institutions in it, far better than I do, these recommendations will be worth their weight in carved maple!
Absolutely--in fact, on my office door I have a small rectangular piece of curly maple with the Chinese character for "Writer" on it. But you will have to send me what you want me to carve, especially if it's in a non-English language or non-Latin script. A really nice high-resolution image will really, really help.
The book measures 8" x 10" and has 188 pages, 16 of which are color photographs. There are also examples of each script at the head of each chapter. More information about the book can be found at http://www.endangeredalphabets.com/…. You can read Jack Eller's review at http://wings.buffalo.edu/ARD/cgi/showme.cgi….
You can see a photo of the plaque (and the person who carved it) at http://www.endangeredalphabets.com/…. You didn't ask, but I'd say it weighs about four pounds.
Glad you asked. You can see it at the head of the Gallery page of the Endangered Alphabets website: http://www.endangeredalphabets.com/….