On 26 March 2020, Mohammed Hossein, a Bangladeshi-born resident of Lavapiés, contracted COVID-19 and died in his home after attempting to contact the healthcare services by telephone. He didn’t speak fluent Spanish.
Artist, poet and publisher Dani Zelko spoke to Hossein’s family and friends by phone while under lockdown in Buenos Aires. Their voices are assembled in this book, Lengua o muerte (Language or Death), which rails against a death that could have been avoided, relating it to the urgent need for interpreters in the healthcare system and all administrative bodies. This assertion is backed by Hossein’s friends and migrant and social organisations regarding everyone’s right to express themselves in their own language.
Lengua o muerte
belongs to a series of Reunión (Meeting)
publications and events, for which Zelko elaborates on a common procedure: travelling, talking to people and transcribing by hand what others dictate to him. Thus, his writing occurs in an intimate encounter, whereby the spoken word, with its silences and breaths, becomes a written word. After completing his tasks as a listener and transcriber, he edits the texts, turning them into books via his printing press-backpack, a phase he calls “urgent editing”. By utilising this process Zelko has turned varied and distant testimonies into poems: migrants on the Mexico-US border, the mother of a victim of police violence in Buenos Aires, rescue volunteers in the last earthquake in Mexico, Mapuche communities singled out as terrorists by the Argentinian State… Each of these testimonial poems materialises into simple books read aloud the following day in each “meeting” and given out for free among the community.
In mid-March of this year, Zelko had planned to carry out a series of actions and presentations in Madrid in collaboration with Museo Situado, a network made up of different collectives and associations from Madrid’s Lavapiés neighbourhood, and the Museo Reina Sofía. The healthcare emergency caused by COVID-19 disrupted these plans and Zelko had to return to Buenos Aires, where he has remained under lockdown ever since.
His practices in Meeting are not designed to be done remotely, in a process that emerges from an encounter, from the proximity of bodies, yet the exceptional circumstances of the current situation and the urgency to pay heed to what is happening means the rules of engagement have changed. Lengua o muerte is available in PDF here.
Dani Zelko is an artist, poet and publisher from Argentina. His work is made up of words and people joined through a process which generates publications and events, whereby political tensions and language experiments feed into each other.
His publications include the books Frontera Norte, Juan Pablo por Ivonne - El contra-relato de la doctrina Chocobar, ¿Mapuche terrorista?, Las preguntas completas de Osvaldo Lamborghini and Selección sudamericana por la muerte, some of which have been translated into English and Portuguese. Furthermore, he has held exhibitions in Argentina, Paraguay, Cuba, Mexico, the USA and Canada.