I was very fortunate to take a printmaking/collage workshop with the artist Inez Storer last Spring and we were talking about hearing loss and sound. And since I was thinking of doing some work related to that issue she told me about these medical drawings she owns by Dr. Tooth (I know—really?), a distant relative, who a hundred or so years ago was head of the psychiatric department in London. Inez was kind enough to send me copies one of which I reworked into the image of the figure in my piece “Code I” and “Code II”. To me the image is a perfect fit for my mother’s poem “Code Talkers” in that the drawing feels like it’s sectioned into codes, which are fairly indecipherable (to me). In one piece the image is male and then in the other I transformed the drawing into a female. The text in the background is the poem backward. When I was working on the piece in reversing the text I kept feeling like this is how life is, the answers are all right in front of us we just can’t understand them.
Here is the poem behind the piece;
Years ago our Navajo friend Hosteen Tsiniginni
Told us of how he confounded the enemy
Using a language unwritten,
Unknow beyond the deserts of his home—
Words familiar only to the wind
That twists around the branches of the pinons
On the plateaus, sweeps into the canyons,
And rushes to the sacred mountaintops,
Leaving nothing on the air
But whoosh and ssss
And soft gutteral word
Followed by short puffs of warm sound.
It was the one code that
Could not be broken.
It appears now that we are code talkers, too,
With ourselves as the enemy,
Using words to confuse and distract,
To mask the meaning of what we say
So that syllables sit on our tongues
Like polite dinner guests
Who are on the verge of vomiting
But tell the hostess again and again
How much they enjoyed
The veal parmesan.
It has taken us years to learn the words
But we have become the world’s
best code talkers,
our success matched only
by that of Hosteen Tsinniginni
and his kin.
We speak a language having nothing to do
With what we feel, becoming more and more
Adept at the one code
That cannot be broken.
by Carla Chlouber © Chlouber Estate