Australia

These artists have reimagined Australia’s poorly translated coronavirus messaging

Australia’s multicultural communities have faced several challenges accessing the correct health advice during the coronavirus pandemic, including not being able to find information in languages other than English.

Translation errors were also uncovered in official state and federal government messaging last year, a bungle which inspired a new multilingual poster exhibition called Mistranslations, currently on display as part of Melbourne Design Week.

The project, organised by branding and design agency Re, asked artists to reimagine the government’s COVID-19 advice in a visual way and in languages other than English, with the aim of creating an engaging poster to help break down language barriers.

Valentina Saldouzi, an Argentinian-Assyrian art director from Sydney, created her posters in honour of her grandmothers – one Spanish-speaking, the other Assyrian-speaking. She said it had been particularly difficult to locate COVID-19 information in Assyrian over the course of the pandemic.

“I’m really close with both my grandmothers and translating COVID information daily was something we had to do,” the 30-year-old said.

“They’re quite fluent in English but sometimes they still grapple with some English words, especially when it’s technical and medical.

“The exhibition’s brief really spoke to me because I lived it.”

Valentina Saldouzi’s posters in English and Assyrian.

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Saldouzi’s posters, which have both English and Assyrian elements, makes use of warm colours and captions saying ‘I love you’ and ‘stay home’.

She said staying home was the one piece of COVID-19 information that “really stuck out” to her.

“That was the one that was really hard for cheeky, independent grandmothers who love their social lives,” she said.

“I wanted to try and make something really warm, which is why I added the colours and the ‘I love you’ part. ‘Stay at home’ and ‘I love you’ were things we were saying daily as a family.”

Illustrator Mikele Lindebergh's poster in Swedish, left, and a poster submitted in Mandarin by artist Tian Na.

Illustrator Mikele Lindebergh’s poster in Swedish, left, and a poster submitted in Mandarin by artist Tian Na.

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Mikele Lindebergh, a 42-year-old illustrator from Sweden now living in Sydney, also made a submission.

His colourful work, written in Swedish, says ‘protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Wear a facemask’, and points to the Department of Health website. 

He said he was really excited when he found out about the exhibition as he could “finally do something in Swedish”.

“I wanted to make something quite positive to make sure people [were] looking at it, engage, and read the informative thing it has to say in a fun way,” he said.

A poster in Thai which says 'avoiding physical greeting' by designer and illustrator Suparom Ronyut, left, and one in Cantonese

A poster in Thai which says ‘avoiding physical greeting’ by designer and illustrator Suparom Ronyut, left, and one in Cantonese which says ‘protect yourself’ by artist Jason Lui.

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In total, Mistranslations comprises 18 posters spanning 14 different languages.

Copies of the posters will be sold at the exhibition and for a limited time afterwards as well, with proceeds going to Connection Art Space, a Victoria-based organisation that works with artists from migrant and asylum seeker backgrounds. 

Mistranslations is part of Melbourne Design Week, which runs until 5 April at Honey Bones Gallery in Collingwood.

Coronavirus news and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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