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In Your Words

6 videos and installations (2011)
In collaboration with Brendan Fernandes

In Your Words is a collaboration between Nanna Debois Buhl and Brendan Fernandes. Inspired by the life and writing of Danish author Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), best known for her acclaimed book Out of Africa, this project explores notions of identity, translation and migration through a post-colonial lens by merging the story of Blixen’s life and writing with the peripatetic, overlapping lives of the artists themselves.

Buhl was born in Denmark while Fernandes was born in Kenya, and they met in New York City where they were both based for a time. The project’s research began in 2010 when the artists spent time at Rungstedlund, Blixen’s home, and they began an inquiry into the element of language and migration in Blixen’s work and in their own itinerant narratives. English, Danish and Swahili—three tongues shared by Blixen, Buhl and Fernandes—are intertwined and juxtaposed in several of the works, addressing notions of identity and belonging.

List of works
In Your Words
HD video (2011)
10:27 min.
Animations: Hisao Iharo
Sound: Pejk Malinovski
Play excerpt
In a visual landscape inhabited by animated birds and drifting words, a polyphonic story unfolds in Swahili, English, and Danish—the respective languages of Blixen, Fernandes and Buhl. Interweaving biographical material, fragments from Blixen’s writing, and names of birds that migrate between Kenya and Denmark, the work explores lingual migrations where lexicon can be forgotten and learned again.
Farah’s Letter
Installation (2011)
0:55 min.
Neon sign and sound
A flickering neon parrot pulsates alongside an audio excerpt from a letter written by Blixen’s servant Farah Aden. The letter recalls a parrot that he bought for her after she left Kenya. He explains that the parrot is from the French Congo and only able to speak French, but that in time the bird will forget its original tongue and begin to speak Swahili and English in its new surroundings. The work addresses the colonial hierarchies in which language is transformed through one’s removal from one space and immersion into another.
To flee / To fly
HD video (2011)
3:33 min.
Animations: Hisao Iharo
16mm footage: Ellehammers Første Forsøg med Aeroplan, 1908
The Danish term et fly / at fly translates into English as an airplane / to flee. The term shares etymological roots with the similar English pair to flee / to fly. Playing on the duality of the words and their overlapping origin, this short film depicts historical footage of an airplane juxtaposed with an animation of a flock of birds hovering in an empty space.

At Sea

HD video (2011)
3:11 min.
Animations: Hisao Iharo
In her book, Out of Africa, Blixen writes about a journey on board a boat with one-hundred-and-fifty flamingos that are being taken to a zoological garden in France. She describes the poor conditions that they live in, and that many of them die during their long travel at sea. In this short film, footage of the ocean outside Rungstedlund serves as a background upon which sentences appear and disappear, telling Blixen’s tale.
Kama Ndege
Installation (2011)
Curtain and sound
A textile with a pattern of graphic bird drawings hangs and drapes in the exhibition space indicative of the curtains in Blixen’s living room at Rungstedlund. Every so often the spontaneous sound of birds fills the space. The birdcalls belong to the bird species that migrate between the African continent and the bird sanctuary at Rungstedlund. Through the figure of the migratory bird, the idea of home is questioned; in its nomadic existence home is not one place, but several.


Text piece for exhibition cases and publication (2011)
Edited by: Mette Moestrup
This work is based on fragments from thirteen index cards handwritten in different colored inks and languages, scribed by the artists in collaboration with poet Mette Moestrup. The text merges personal associations with reflections on language as such, and the piece can be seen as an associative glossary for the exhibition.