How many billboards?
Photo: Gerard Smulevich

lauren woods

Cultural and collective memory, historical narratives, social psychology, and the politics of gender, class, race, and nationhood are some of the themes lauren woods commonly taps in her work. The text on her billboard is in Urdu; it is translated as follows:

As long as the earth and the sky last,
Smile like a flower in the garden of the world.

It is from a love poem by a prolific Urdu poet of the medieval period, Vali Dakhni, who is credited with inventing the poetic form ghazal, consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain. Dakhni also inspired poets of Delhi to switch from writing in Persian, the language of the upper class, to writing in Urdu, which was the common language of the people. For many in Los Angeles, the image of the poem on the billboard does not transmit its meaning, because most of us read neither Arabic script nor the Urdu language. Language without legibility provides a kind of canvas upon which the viewer may project assumptions, passions, and fears. In post-9/11 America, this particular foreign language can appear both beautiful and vaguely threatening. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, one of the most active hotspots for global tension. Woods presents this opportunity for mass projection as a chance for self-reflection. The work sets up a moment in which the viewer is prompted to observe her assumptions and possibly evaluate her prejudices. Woods' piece insists on seeing the beauty in distant cultures, especially when these cultures have been associated with enemies of our nation. It also plays with the idea of messaging, delivering a directive from a distant century, language, alphabet, and culture, yet one with an arguably universal meaning and contemporary relevance.
By Kimberli Meyer

LOCATION: Fairfax Ave, south of Melrose Ave, west side of the street, facing north.
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lauren woods (b. 1979)
lauren woods is a multimedia artist based in the Bay Area of California. Her hybrid media projects - film, video and sound installations, interventions, and site-specific work - engage history while contemplating the socio-politics of the present. Challenging the tradition of documentary/ethnography as objective, she creates ethno-fictive documents that investigate invisible dynamics in society, remix memory, and imagine other possibilities. In 2006, she received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, including Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, and Miami, as well as Puerto Rico, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Mali, and France.

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