Bani Abidi – Memorial to Lost Words

Bani Abidi, Memorial to Lost Words, photograph by Ross Fraser McLean / StudioRoRo

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Bani Abidi is interested in the language of power, often using humour to unpick the strategies adopted by politicians to construct and convey their authority. Death at a 30 Degree Angle (2012), for example, tells the fictional story of a small-time politician, commissioning a monumental self portrait from a renowned sculptor, and experimenting with costume and pose to best express his power.

Her newest work proposes an alternative, decidedly anti-monumental, form of memorial. Drawing on the archive of London based poet Amarjit Chandan, Abidi’s sound installation brings into dialogue two sets of voices, both largely overlooked in official accounts of the First World War.

The first are folksongs sung by the mothers, wives and sisters of Indian soldiers living in the Punjab, pleading with their menfolk not to go war. The antithesis of war songs, these ballads — recorded by the artist with folk singers in Pakistan — tell stories of longing, loss and the absurdity of war.

The second are the unheard voices drawn from letters written by Indian soldiers to their families from the front. Censored because of their frank accounts of the horrors of the war, these letters never reached their addressees. Memorial to Lost Words gives voice to these lost letters, through a freshly composed song by poet Amarjit Chandan, commemorating the lives of these forgotten soldiers through a profoundly oral tradition.

The British Council interviewed Bani Abidi and made a short film about the commission which you can read and watch here.

Access information:
Old Royal High School is located along Regent Road and is easily accessible by car, foot and public transport. Special arrangements can be made in advance for disabled car parking and there is full wheelchair access. The artwork is an audio installation sung in Punjabi and a full translation of the audio is available on site. Visitors are invited to sit within the debating chamber benches to enjoy the work. There are no toilet facilities at this venue with the nearest public facilities located within Waverley Station.
Supported by The Scottish Government Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund, Event Scotland, British Council Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council and Experimenter 
Part of the 2016 Edinburgh Art Festival Commissions programme


28 July – 28 August
Mon – Sun, 10am – 6pm
Disabled Access


Old Royal High School
New Parliament House
Regent Road,
Edinburgh, EH7 5BL