Seed drawings

Joan Gabie was commissioned by living-language-land to create a series of drawings based on seeds for their website. Her ink drawings of seeds and seed-bearing plants are intended to reflect the ethos of nurture and new growth.

“Seeds are like little worlds: contained within them the endless possibilities for life and newness. 

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The Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project

In 2019 I was lucky enough to make a short visit to meet Jessie Little Doe Baird and the Wampanoag Native American community in Mashpee, Massachusetts as part of an artist commission for the National Trust at Blickling Hall, Norfolk.

In the library at Blickling Hall we came across a Bible published in 1663, written in Wampanoag and known as The Eliot Bible, which had somehow found its way back to England. Eliot immigrated to Massachusetts just ten years after the Pilgrim Fathers and wanted to preach to the indigenous community there, hence translating the bible, significantly helped by a few Wampanoag people.

However, within a few short years of the Bible’s publication, the Wampanoag community was all but destroyed through war, enforced slavery and banishment. Speaking their language was made a crime, punishable by death. It became a lost, or at least underground language, where the only records were preserved in letters from the time and the Bible.

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Meeting Noongar elder Kathy Yarran

The first time I consciously recognized the intimate relationship between a landscape, language and people, was meeting an amazing Noongar speaker, Kathy Yarran, in Western Australia. I was living for a short while in Kellerberrin, a small farming town, hardly a town, just a few basic shops straddling the Great Eastern Highway on the edge of the farm belt and desert and a three-hour drive inland from Perth. Kathy was the oldest living Noongar resident and the last fluent speaker in town when we met, and possibly one of the wisest people I have encountered. She had a way of looking and speaking, which seemed to penetrate to your deepest thoughts and emotions. 

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A feeling like the sun

We are still working out what we are creating, or facilitating with living-language-land. It’s a platform, more than a project. A place where people can share their deep connections with nature in their own languages and own words. But many things lie unresolved – who gets to contribute, and who doesn’t? How can we possibly make a meaningful gesture with 26 words when there are thousands of minority and endangered languages across the world, and more than 800 in India alone? What is it for someone to try and share a worldview and a way of living in just a single word? Could I do that in English? These are the things that I turn over at night when I can’t sleep.

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Getting started – Philippa’s thread

Neville Gabie and I met about 10 years ago, when we were both at the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol. I was the new manager there, and he was our first Artist-in-Residence, supported by the Leverhulme Trust. Neville brought a quiet and thoughtful presence, a fantastic listening ear, and a history of inspiring, participatory projects from Greenland to Antarctica (and many places in between). I brought my passion for interdisciplinary thinking and working, and a mental Rolodex of the brilliant researchers that spanned the Cabot Institute’s environmental remit. It was a good pairing.

We both moved on from Cabot, and stayed loosely in touch, but didn’t really speak until late in 2020 when the call for the British Council’s Creative Commissions for COP26 came out.  Throughout 2020 I had been thinking about trying to find a softer response to the environmental crisis. I have been on many protests, lent my voice to chants of “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!”, voted Green, put posters in my window, and ear-bashed my friends. But in the dislocation of pandemic lockdown I felt myself wanting to respond to a quieter yet insistent voice that yearned for less shouting, and more acknowledgement of our beautiful, fragile relationship with the natural world.

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