(Re)Drawing the Contours: A Translation of a Painting

Eponine Howarth

I recently told Nacho, the editor of Paraphrasis, that I would engage in the translation of a painting. I have long been intrigued by different artistic forms and the ‘adaptation’ of a work from one medium to another. Painting, photography, cinema, poetry, literature, theatre, music: each offer an alternative take on (a) matter.

Obviously, it is impossible to stay entirely faithful when moving between different media, and some form(at)s offer a better way of expressing an idea—in the same way that a specific language might lend itself better to expressing a particular emotion. 

As part of the open call for submissions for Tate Collective x Tate Etc., I spent numerous hours looking at The Operating Table (2019) by Lubaina Himid, a painting that hangs on a white Tate Modern-wall in London. On the left-hand side of the painting, large black letters read: 'What Happens Next?’.  

I thought this painting would offer a good opportunity to conduct a translation, an interpretation of the layers of paint on a canvas to an assemblage of letters and words on a page.


[A version of this piece made it to the shortlist of the top 10 for the Tate Collective x Tate Etc. open call (2022)]

Three women,
Around a map.
A Venetian Map?
The woman in turquoise
Casts a set of die,
The one in orange
Points to a lake.
How will we redefine space(s)?
I take a — seat at the ——— table.
I enter the dialogue.
A conversation.
We live in clothes,
We live in buildings,
Do they fit us?
What are monuments for?
What’s the strategy?
An echo of questions
Reverberates.
History, our built environments,
Shape our lives.
The voice of James Baldwin whispers:
How much time do you want for your progress?
The straight red lines remind me of
The solid lines of colonial maps.
Men sitting around a cake labelled AFRICA,
Otto von Bismarck dishing out slices.
A Qing official observes powerlessly
As a pastry of CHINA is divided by:
Queen Victoria,
Kaiser Wilhem II,
Czar Nicholas II,
and a samurai.
I’m dazzled by the

                                 white

                                          operating

                                                                  light.

Our conversation shifts to action and strategising,
Re-appropriating history, destiny and
                                                           space.
It’s about revising the contours.
A yellow jug of water sits in the left corner:
A symbol of the domestic,
Of a space occupied by women?
A jug ready to water the garden of change?
                       The
                       seeds
                       have
                       been
                       planted.
It’ll be a garden of colours: orange, turquoise, blue.
What Happens Next?
We re-appropriate,
We play with space,
We redivide it.
We redefine cities for women.
I hope the Three Architects that I met in the first room of the exhibition will join.


The Operating Table (2019) by Lubaina Himid

Eponine Howarth

Eponine is an LLM candidate at the University of Cambridge and a qualified lawyer interested in human rights. She has an obsession with French diplomat and novelist, Romain Gary, and she also holds a strong interest in Latin American writers and poets, such as Alejandro Zambra, Mario Levrero and Alejandra Pizarnik.

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