Art, language and making way for other cultures | Stillman Translations
Art, language and making way for other cultures

A controversial article on a Miami based expo triggered debate with one question: why was it not in Spanish?

A controversial article on a Miami based expo triggered debate with one question: why was it not in Spanish?

Hyperallergic, a well known art related blog, posted a controversial article on Art Basel Miami with a single question that triggered debate: why is it not in Spanish? 

They brought to notice how printed pamphlets, links, tickets and such were not bilingual in a city where two-thirds of the population speaks Spanish. Not to misquote: “I noticed that both of the printed pamphlets that Art Basel offers to visitors (a floor plan and a show program) were not bilingual. In Miami-Dade County, which includes Miami Beach, two-thirds of the population speaks Spanish”.  

The website itself presented French, and Chinese translations but not Spanish.  

What does this mean? Does it happen in other biennales, festivals and events? What about when the artists themselves are from other nations and native languages? These are some of the questions we’ll answer.

Art: language; Art Basel Miami
Photo by Ruben Ramirez on Unsplash  


There was a clear target here. The costs of an Art Basel ticket are high. The website is in French and Chinese. It’s oriented to what the exhibition believes to be potential clients and visitors. So physical bilingual material wasn’t considered a top priority. But web translation was. And it’s not a bad decision itself to contemplate who the real target is when choosing a language. When people are visiting a new city, they’ll often look to the local tourism office or scan the web for sights that are worth visiting. Having your website in more than one language makes you automatically more accessible. But remember to always do this based on data on who your audience is and not on assumptions, to make the most of it.  

Also, remember there is more than one type of audience. For example, the author points out, “most of the fair workers (…) spoke Spanish”. Team members are an audience in itself. Decisions make a statement and speak about your culture. Make sure you give thought to this beforehand.  

Also, remember no to leave it at website only. These people who needed the translation, will still need it when they arrive. So maybe it’s not bilingual pamphlets, but multilingual audio guides. These are cost effective, need to be recorded only one, and can be reproduced in many devices while broadening the audience and general comprehension. Some might even say their experience is more interactive, as they’re enjoying a deep and meaningful story on each piece of art, narrated for them by a voiceover artist.

Museums and fairs as meeting places

Museums are places of encounter, transfer and learning. They have thus been conceptualized as translational places, that is, ‘areas of intense interaction across languages, spaces defined by an acute consciousness of cultural negotiation

Museums represent cultures and personal stories, and bring the world to any town. They take us back in time or plunge us into the future.  They are metaphorical ‘contact zones’ where figures of the Other are created and cultures are translated in specific ways, for specific audiences and with specific purposes in mind. We had the tiniest glimpse of this in the previous point. But this places higher level questions. Such as: how are (national or foreign, dominant or minor) cultures, identities and memories (re)imagined in museums? In what ways do forms of translation and transfer facilitate the interchange and cross-fertilization of cultures in the contact zone? 

It brings us to think about the need of translating and keeping the original for our audience. If the artist is from another country, can we really provide context only in, let’s say, English? Should we not keep an original version? Should we dwell on untranslatables? These questions have no one answer, but we should always ask ourselves these questions when facing a new project. Because in this metaphorical cultural negotiation, tiny details can account for much bigger consequences.

From local to worldwide

With the internet as a possibility, why keep your event local? Go multinational and multilingual through multimedia localization.  

La localisation multimédia is the process of adapting multimedia content from one language to another and to localize it to accommodate cultural references of the target language. 

La localisation multimédia s'applique à différents projets multimédias, notamment : 

1. Trailers 

2. Films 

3. Advertisement 

4. Presentations 

5. Marketing material 

6. Audio recordings 

7. Web banners 

Amongst others. It can be shared with customers, partners and colleagues from different parts of the world, in other markets where language can be a significant barrier. Linguists, translators and localizers, video editors and sound experts, generally coordinated by a project manager, work together to guarantee high-quality results.  

by a project manager, work together to guarantee high-quality results.  

So why not share the exhibition with the communities where the artist is originally from? Why not bring those communities back home? Why not dubb, subtitle and share?  

Art, culture, museums, movies, entertainment. They are all pathways to a more diverse and comprehensive world. At Stillman we like to contribute to make this happen.

If you would like to learn more about this topic go to “How to tackle humor beyond borders: from topics to grammar”