30 days of Rngiew
From September 20, 2020 to October 19, 2020, I participated in a daily video messaging exchange with Lapdiang. Every day, we sent each other 5 second videos and became barometers of each other’s rngiew.
Rngiew is a core part of Khasi indigenous social consciousness and spirituality. The term is not translatable and its meaning in English has been severely debated. It can mean essence, aura, expression, soul, fate, or even consciousness. Often it is a distinguishing original mark that a person bears on her face. Rngiew can manifest as solid (eh rngiew) or soft (jem rngiew). A solid rngiew is usually a good thing. A soft rngiew is usually misfortune. Only Khasis, by virtue of speaking the language, can decipher rngiew in each other. Yet at its core, rngiew remains an elusive concept. It escapes western translation, freeing it from the dissecting gaze of scientific learning.
Lapdiang’s video clip would arrive as a message and I would respond in Khasi with an audio recording, “I think your rngiew is solid today.” She would do the same. Parallel to the exchange, at the end of each day, I would generate a 1000x1000 pixel image with computer code in the Processing development environment. I think of this coded abstract image as a portal between our rngiews.
While it is untranslatable to a non-Khasi person, Lapdiang and I understood the fundamentals of what rngiew meant. Using an internet exchange as artistic practice, I built space for this Khasi knowledge (this precolonial worldview) in technology, the internet.
Made amidst COVID-19 pandemic, the process of depicting rngiew allowed a mixing of my daily life, reflections, and practice. It allowed me to engage with Khasi knowledge from so far away, yet inwardly, not as a science or a critique. I was abiding in something unknown and spiritual as a source of meditation. As the process went on, even if it was completely impossible to translate rngiew, I felt a sense of comfort as the world began to feel like a hole devoid of purpose and meaning.