Review of Word Sound Power at Tate Modern

"Were it not for Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s ‘The Whole Truth’ and ‘Conflicted Phonemes’ the exhibition would have seemed strangely split down the middle. Abu Hamdan’s works were by far my favourite pieces in the exhibition.

 ‘Conflicted Phonemes’ used a large wall diagram to depict the scale and geography of migration both within and from Somalia since 1972 (when somali became an official language with a writing system). Alongside this were forms/A4 print outs detailing the cases of individual Somali asylum seekers in the UK who had their claims for asylum rejected due to accent analysis suggesting they did not come from south Somalia as claimed. The work showed how situations of war and famine have led to multiple regional influences on people’s speech. Abu Hamdan’s other work ’The Whole Truth’ included a video of a line graph – its red line indicating various degrees of truth or lie – that was viewed in mirror, so you also watched yourself watching it. The soundtrack was made up of interviews with people including (according to the exhibition guide) software developers, anthropologists and entrepreneurs of the biometric industry talking about voice based lie detectors. I also noticed some audio taken from UK news programmes about such software being used by benefits agencies. Both works successfully explored how the audible and material aspects of voice have social and political ramifications."