Coming to Welsh

My essay The Welsh Dresser marks the past through my responses to this piece of furniture owned by my great aunt and some of the objects contained within it. These scenes of childhood memory are accompanied by a set of dictionary definitions, which attempt to define the objects housed by the dresser with reference to the words that represent them. These apparently precise definitions also contain elements, which have been suppressed, meanings seldom used, related to forgotten linguistic origins. Such lost etymological traces allow new scenes to surface and unexpected connections to be made. While intimate memories might be understood as scenes from a psychoanalytic and literary perspective, from a historiographical perspective they can be construed as events.

Invited to contribute to Bella Kerr’s The Keeper, at the Mission Gallery in Swansea, Wales. I made a scene, and two events, called Coming to Welsh.

One definition of a keeper is a person who manages or looks after something or someone; another is an object that keeps another in place, often protecting something more fragile or valuable. In keeping the gallery, I am also accompanied by keepers – books and objects which hold the place of the Welsh Dresser.

In Coming to Writing, as Hélène Cixous writes, ‘the mother tongue resonates’. By keeping, in Coming to Welsh, I am an adult woman coming back to the language of her childhood and her mother. I will also be coming back to writing, setting myself the task of ‘translating’ The Welsh Dresser into Welsh.

Following Walter Benjamin’s description in the ‘The Task of the Translator’, translation is a task that I carry out ‘lovingly and in detail’. To guide me, I invited two other writers whose work engages with relation between Welsh and English, language, memory, place and translation. On the opening day, accompanied by writer and artist, Mike Pearson, I read the English version of The Welsh Dresser, and by the closing day, accompanied by poet Sharon Morris, I presented my translation of The Welsh Dresser.



Jane Rendell, Coming to Welsh, for The-Keeper, curated by Bella Kerr, The Mission Gallery, Swansea, 7–12 May 2013.


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