This unique exhibition showcased a project to record people who grew up with Guernesiais, the ancestral language of Guernsey.
Voice-Vouaïe became the first exhibition at Guernsey Museum to exist virtually and you can click here to 'visit' the galleries. (The background audio can be turned on or off by clicking the music icon in the bottom left. You can zoom into images. Each yellow icon gives some information and you you can also listen to each participant).
One hundred and five people took part in Voice-Vouaïe - a partnership project between Guernsey Museums and photographer Aaron Yeandle - and in association with Yan Marquis. The project began in November 2018 with the aim to engage with a hundred people by 2020. The bilingual title was chosen to reflect the subject matter of the project; 'vouaïe' translates as 'voice' in Guernsey's language. Guernesiais (JEHR-nehz-yay) is a variety of Norman French and a cousin of standard French.
The criteria for someone having taking part in the project is that they grew up in an environment where Guernesiais was spoken. Some participants still speak the language daily, others hardly at all and others are rediscovering - or 'remembering' - it.
The exhibition included the portraits of all the participants alongside photographs of objects that are important to them. There was a listening station to hear some of the audio recordings.
More details about the project:
Photographer Aaron took just over 100 portrait photographs of people in their own homes, while language consultant Yan Marquis recorded the voice of each participant. Together the photographs and audio create a striking social history (and contemporary) record of Guernesiais and provide a snapshot of the language between 2018 and 2020. Matt Fallaize, President, Committee for Education, Sport & Culture said at the time: 'this is all about raising awareness of our intangible culture and celebrating what makes Guernsey unique. It is very fitting that the majority of this project took place in 2019, the International Year of Minority Languages.' Jo Dowding, Access & Learning Manager at Guernsey Museums explains that the project will have long lasting impact: 'the portraits and the audio provide an invaluable record of the language and will be used in teaching and learning now and in the future'. To see the portrait photographs and hear some of the audio, visit Aaron's website here.
The Voice - Vouaïe team believe that this kind of project has had mental health and well-being benefits. The recordings were taken in people's own homes, so the project was naturally extremely personal. Most of the participants were over the age of 70 and some lived alone. The process of taking photographs and/or recording a conversation took an average of 2 hours and always involved extra interaction, such as having a cup of tea or conversation.
The portraits and audio are now part of the Museum archive and the project team intend to loan aspects of the collection to other places in Guernsey and further afield. This project has already received attention from other language groups and individuals. For example, Donald Murray is a native Hebridean writer and speaker of Scottish Gaelic who saw Aaron speak about the project in Gibraltar. Mr Murray remarks on the global appeal of these photographs: 'I looked at Aaron's photos and they reminded me of people I have met in the Western Isles, speaking their own indigenous language. Even the homes have so many similarities - the curtains and carpets you can see in the background, the objects on the walls. The photographs really resonated with me'.
This project has been kindly financially supported by the Guernsey Arts Commission and Specsavers. Art for Guernsey are Logistics Sponsor for the project. Specsavers co-founder Dame Mary Perkins said at the time: 'Guernesiais is part of our island culture and something which should be celebrated and remembered. Specsavers is very proud of its island roots, so to be involved in this project is fantastic, and it's one which is closely aligned with our mission to make a positive difference to the lives all by helping people to see and hear better.'
Books of the project can be bought from the Museum shop at Candie for £10. The books include all the portraits and accompanying information. If you are unable to visit the shop, please contact us.
Dates of the exhibition: 9 October - 31 December 2020