The first idea for a megaphone piece made from baskets came from Africa. Directly, it came from seeing baskets that are in the shape of the megaphone. They are only missing the handle. When I saw these baskets the idea to make a giant megaphone appeared to me. Other people might not see the shape of the megaphone in these baskets, but I was doing activism and had some experiences using a megaphone. As a student in Slovakia, I was using a megaphone to protest the proposed law to begin charging students tuition fees for college. The proposal went to parliament to become law, but because of our protests, and the protests of other groups, it did not pass. So when I saw the baskets these two things came together.
I have always been interested in immigration, which in Europe is mostly related to people coming from Africa. My original idea was to give a voice to the immigrants, who are most of the time invisible. You can see them, but it is as always as immigrants, rather than just as people and because they are illegal they are afraid of speaking loudly. The other thing is Africa is so close to the Europe. In most of the newspapers in there is little coverage of what is happening in Africa. So the initial idea was to being this news from Africa and from the immigrants to the people in Europe.
When I came to the United States I became more aware, through the work of Amazon Watch, of the plight of the native people in Brazil. They are losing their land to development. It is obvious to me that the indigenous people in Brazil have different rights, different characteristic than the people in Africa, but I feel that this is almost the same project because the megaphone is a tool for people to speak who are not heard and the indigenous people in Brazil should be heard.
The fact that the basket megaphone will be made by the native people transfers their message not only through the sound of their voices, but also through their handwork. I hope that having these two methods of expression will open people’s eyes a bit more to the concerns of these people. I think that anybody who is confronted with the quality of this traditional work cannot be insensitive to these people. I hope they will see the work and think, “ These people are creating such beautiful things. Their way of life should not be affected negatively by our civilization.”
My connection to the work of native people comes from two different places. From a visual perspective I have always been interested in the quality of indigenous art. Of course, I am not the first artist to be interested in this. There is a long history of contemporary art being influenced by traditional and indigenous art. Also, I feel that these people have a different relation to their own life, to their family, to time and to their environment. The kind of relation which we are missing. In fact we have more to learn from them than they do from us.
From a conversation between Oto Hudec and Janeil Engelstad in February 2011.