our words make worlds

Kalila wa-Dimna: Ancient Tales for Troubled Times

Kalila wa Dimna: Ancient Tales for Troubled Times is a collaboration between 'Travelling Concepts' researcher Rachel Scott, UK and international artists, curators, community organisations, and schools. It features a live exhibition at the P21 Gallery (12 May to 11 June 2022) and an accompanying programme of public events.

The project is inspired by the global journeys of Kalila wa Dimna, an ancient collection of moral fables, with a long and complex global history. Over the centuries the book has been translated into more than 40 languages and read and re-interpreted almost continuously by different audiences. Kalila wa Dimna uses storytelling to understand the world and other people, revealing the messy complexity of life, the multiplicity of perspectives and voices that comprise it, and the fact that there exists not one world or truth, but many, and unequal at that.

In the live exhibition at the P21 Gallery (12 May to 11 June 2022), experienced and emerging artists and community arts organisations will become hakawatis or ‘tellers of tales’ and reinterpret one chapter from the book – the ‘Tale of the Four Friends’: a story about looking beyond perceived differences and working together to overcome adversity and build a sense of community and home – through their own unique perspectives, resulting in a collection of mixed-media works addressing both universal and highly personal issues, including identity, community, migration, and intercultural relations.

Kalila wa Dimna’s global transmission exemplifies how culture is not fixed or static but rather in perpetual motion and created through contact and exchange between different civilisations. Ancient Tales for Troubled Times sheds light on the undeniable influence of Eastern cultures and languages on Western societies. Using a decolonizing lens, our hakawatis question who gets to tell stories and therefore who benefits from their transformative and generative potential. The project also explores the important role that stories have played in people’s experiences of migration, in building new communities, and in experiencing the world through different languages. 

Kalila wa Dimna: Ancient Tales for Troubled Times is funded by Language Acts and Worldmaking and Arts Council England.

Find out more about the collaboration, exhibition, and events programme here. Read a blogpost about school workshops held as part of the project.

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