Artists Explore Ordeals of Airport Security

'In What Language' Looks at Issues of Race, Class and Safety

Mike Ladd, left, and Vijay Iyer.

hide captionMike Ladd, left, and Vijay Iyer.

Anette Aurell

Art is often inspired by awful experiences. That's the case for New York-based jazz musician Vijay Iyer and poet Michael Ladd. Their latest CD, called In What Language, takes a skeptical look at the airport.

The project was inspired by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was detained at New York's JFK airport for 18 hours in the spring of 2001. He wrote about his ordeal and circulated his feelings of injustice and humiliation on the Internet. For Iyer, who is South Asian American, that letter struck a cord.

In a fusion of hip hop, jazz and spoken word poetry, Iyer and Ladd explore the airport as the new Ellis Island, a place where cultures and classes mesh. The CD, which began as a performance art project in New York City, introduces a variety of characters. They're all tethered to the airport in some way: a refugee, a traveling salesmen, a taxi driver, and a security guard. NPR's Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, talks with Iyer and Ladd about their project.

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