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Race, Religion & Social Justice

What it means to be counted: MIT art project aims to capture Ogden’s vocal diversity

Image of an empty art gallery with the A Counting exhibit.
Courtesy of Lydia Gravis
/
‘A Counting’ at Weber State University's Mary Elizabeth Dee Shaw Gallery.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, artist Ekene Ijeoma and his group Poetic Justice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began thinking about potential miscounts in the U.S. census.

The Census Bureau was significantly impacted in its ability to collect data on households and different populations in the country due to public health restrictions.

In response to the difficulties the bureau faces, Ijeoma’s group launched an art project called ‘A Counting.’ It invites people to call in and count to 100 in their native language. Ogden is one of the five cities in the nation to participate in the project.

Ijeoma said they were thinking about how many marginalized communities historically have been underrepresented in census counts.

“That led us to think about what it means to count and who counts,” he said. “It came to, well if we could count to a hundred, which is a whole [number], using all the languages that are spoken in the U.S., that that could be a better representation of our society.”

Ijeoma said over the past two years the project has taken its own shape.

“I think [this is] speaking to ideas of what it means to live in this diverse society,” he said. “And whether or not we're able to live up to the dream of this society, which is — we're a multicultural place. Can we actually be that?”

The art project is a part of a larger exhibition being housed at Weber State University's Mary Elizabeth Dee Shaw Gallery, titled “All Together, Amongst Many: Reflections on Empathy.”

So far, the group has recorded in 11 different languages in the area, including Spanish, German, Korean and Mandarin. There are 22 unique recorded voices that came from Ogden.

The Ogden recordings start every count with the number one in Shoshoni, Paiute, Ute or Goshute — indigenous languages of the region. Ijeoma said these serve similar to a land acknowledgment and as a way to uplift languages that are slowly disappearing.

Lydia Gravis, director of the gallery, said this project creates a space to listen to and understand others.

“It gives a platform for recognition of how many different languages and cultures are making up our community,” Gravis said. “It's not just one language, not just one cultural background, but a very vibrant collection of languages, spoken and cultures reflected here in Ogden.”

She encourages Native American speakers to add their voices to the project.

The exhibit is open through April 2.

Updated: April 15, 2022 at 12:01 PM MDT
This story was updated for clarity based on information on the art project provided by the artist and their representative.
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