Artist Ekene Ijeoma is creating a “voice portrait” of New York City’s residents.
Artist Ekene Ijeoma. Photo by Kris Graves.
Creating a portrait of New York City’s more than 8.5 million residents sounds daunting, but conceptual artist Ekene Ijeoma is hoping to convey New Yorkers’ diversity in their own voices. The artist has launched a remotely accessible public art project that aims to create a “voice portrait” of the city’s residents composed of recordings of them counting in their native languages. Launched today, A Counting is accessible via the project’s website and over the phone (at 917-905-6647); it builds on a physical version of the project Ijeoma created in collaboration with his group Poetic Justice at the MIT Media Lab for the exhibition “Who We Are: Visualizing NYC by Numbers” at Museum of the City of New York.
For Ijeoma, the project is also intended to raise awareness about the U.S. census, which historically has tended to underrepresent people of color—and whose 2020 edition was already facing challenges before COVID-19 hit. In a statement, the artist said:
Against the backdrop of the 2020 US census, a global pandemic, and a nationwide uprising against racism, A Counting seeks to recognize the linguistic and ethnic diversity of this country. [...] New York City is one of the most diverse yet segregated cities and, at a time of increasing division, A Counting meditates on how to heal those divides and speculates on what a unified city could sound like.
In addition to collecting the sounds of participants counting in their native language, participants in A Counting are encouraged to share reflections on the places their languages are spoken and how those communities’ numerical systems work. Members of the public can also participate in the project by helping to transcribe the recordings (either via the website or by texting “TRANSCRIBE” to the project number).