Research & Enquiry Reflective Statement

This reflective statement will attempt to establish and analyze my methodology for this module. It will examine the ways I have developed solutions and explore the advantages and disadvantages encountered in the way I work. Some aspects of my method are similar to those put forward by Gillian Rose in Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. Namely, Semiology – how images make meaning (Rose, 2011: 69) and Discourse Analysis – an exploration of how images construct views of the social world. (Rose, 2011: 140). In brief, my method of research involved four stages.

The first stage, information gathering and selection, identified and examined the work of several practitioners and visual artefacts. I found that I learnt more from reading than observation and my process of selecting sources depended on the depth of information and knowledge about a particular subject. Once I found that source to have the best explanation and references compared to other sources, I would then consider that to be a good source. I also found that reading about other artists’ experiences gave me a better understanding about process. I even went a step further in gathering information by attempting to contact two of the artists whose work I came across, Tim Gaze and Saki Mafundikwa. They wrote to me and provided very useful information. The second stage of the process, analysis, included the application of critical theory and debate. I considered context when looking at theories and examples. My research centered on ideas of a universal language that is gestural and typographic at the same time, therefore, a visual and theoretical analysis was undertaken of gestural and writing systems as well as asemic writing. This led to further ideas of Universality. The third stage, synthesis, focused on practical exploration and experimentation and the convergence of two or more areas in a creative way to generate meaning. Once I started the practical experiments I found it easier to draw connections between different things. The forth and final stage looked at potential applications of the visual outcomes generated. Two outcomes had the potential for signage, packaging as well as branding.

During my research I acquired a breadth of knowledge about a wide range of subjects which has given me the potential for making unexpected connections. While I had ideas relating to typography, there was not a specific visual outcome or goal in mind. It emerged as my research progressed. However, while my research has led me to some very interesting ideas, there were also challenges. I kept getting distracted by new research and became overwhelmed at times. As a result, this did not allow me time to focus my investigation and develop ideas to the extent that I wanted to. Despite this, I still developed a critical inquisitiveness which made me appreciate where my research stood in relation to theory and how practice is informed by research.


Rose, G. (2011) ‘Semiology: Laying bare the prejudices beneath the smooth surface of the beautiful’ and ‘Discourse analysis 1: text, intertextuality and context’ in Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. London: Sage Publications Ltd.


Towards a Utopian Vision of a Unified Humanity

In an earlier post I’ve already established that Asemic Writing is something which looks like a form of writing but which you cannot read. Asemic artist Michael Jacobson further elaborates by saying “…that asemic writing is a shadow, impression, and abstraction of conventional writing.” “It uses the constraints of writerly gestures and the full developments of abstract art to divulge its main purpose: total freedom beyond literary expression,” he said. The idea of a creating meaning by way of “Aesthetic intuition and by verbal expression” I found interesting because then it renders all readers equal.

In my research I discovered that early modernists did not see the value or need for such writing believing it served no purpose in a world where communication through language was key. Many of them saw it as purely decorative. However recent views and ideas on the subject are being recognised via literature and exhibits.

An extraordinary exhibit I recently came across was a 75-foot high art installation by New York-based artist Wenda Gu titled United Nations – Bable of the Millennium. Gu collected hair from 352 barber shops and hair salons from 18 different countries over a period of 20 years. The concept was to merge language and culture together through the form of hair. The 100 panels are all woven together and feature scripted lettering made out of hair based on Chinese, English, Hindi and Arabic. The installation is part of the permeant collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.




Links to earlier experimentation with Pseudo Writing

In an online article on Gu’s exhibit, David Cateforis, associate professor of Art History at the University of Kansas, says Gu’s work “embodies the concept of babel in its profusion of 116 rectangular panels incorporating nonsensical, invented scripts based on chinese, english, hindi, and arabic characters, and on a synthesis of chinese and english. This nonsensical writing has its roots in Gu’s initial experimentation with pseudo-seal scripts in china the mid-1980s which helped to make his reputation as a leader of the so-called ’85 art new wave in China.”


Wenda Gu, Mythos of Lost Dynasties, 1983-87

The scripts in the united nations work he says “frustrate the ability of viewers to read them and, in Gu’s terms, “evoke the limitations of human knowledge.” Gu hopes also that these unreadable scripts will help prepare viewers for entry into what he calls an “unknown world” – a utopian world, perhaps, that cannot be described or defined by any written language.

Cateforis believes that Gu’s intentions though unifying in vision, “seems depressingly out of reach in our present era of worldwide racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural tensions – tensions that often erupt in atrocious and tragic violence such as the attacks of september 11, 2001 and the ongoing bloodshed in the middle east and elsewhere.” However, adding, “but it is precisely because the present situation does seem so dire that we desperately need art like Wenda Gu’s to help us imagine something better, and to encourage us all to work towards it.”

In reflecting on Gu’s work I recognise that scale, the materials used as well as the space exhibited has an impact on the viewer. These together form the catalyst for Gu’s message to be communicated. However, it is the ideas of Universality which Gu expresses so eloquently in his exhibit that I find most appealing and inspiring.

The Arabesque influence

Having done several experiments and development of potential themes for my FAT1 research (some of which will be the focus in my next module) I will be focusing on outcomes. These outcomes will be along the lines of signage, branding or design.

I have identified several examples as inspiration.

While doing investigations for Visual Signifiers of Cultures and Asemic Writing, I became very interested in Arabesque, Arabic Calligraphy and Geometry as these were areas that provided context for my experiments. Therefore a further investigation into their application to potential outcomes I thought would be useful to my research and future projects.

Here artist Muhammad Abdulmateen has created several Arabesque designs. According to Abulmateen, “Arabesque is an artistic motif that is characterised by the application of repeating geometric forms and fancifully Arabic Calligraphy.”






The rebranding of Dubai International Airport

The Design is characteristic of Islamic patterns, however, it also incorporates the idea of a compass rosette. The designers also had a version that incorporated a globe-like element further reinforcing the idea of “global reach”.



Visual Identity

The Bahrain National Museum Visual Identity by Tarek Atrissi

At first glance the logo reminded me somewhat of the QR code (Quick Response Code) which is now common in customer advertising and applicable to smartphones. This I thought gave the design a modern edge, although this resemblance to the QR code was not the artist’s intention.

According to Artrissi, the architecture of the Museum was the inspiration for the project. The building consists of three cubical structures attached to each other. The squarish floorplan of the building, he said, was the basis of the graphic element adopted for the logo.


The three Arabic words of the museum’s name were designed in a square kufi Arabic calligraphy style to fill in the squarish forms in the logo.


Square or geometric Kufic is a very simplified rectangular style of Kufic widely used for tiling. In Iran sometimes entire buildings are covered with tiles spelling sacred names like those of God, Muhammad and Ali in square Kufic, a technique known as banna’i.


The result is a logo that is typographic and incorporates the museum’s iconic architecture which forms the basis of an identity system further developed for the museum.

Through this exploration I have a greater appreciation of semiotic principles. The above example shows that the designer has instil work with references that enable a design to communicate multiple layers of meaning to the viewer.

According to the Fundamentals of Graphic Design, “When images are developed through the application of semiotic principles, a graphic device can be made more tha it would appear to be at first glance. The type of image, its style and presentation, its quality and how it has been reproduced can all add layers of meaning to the overall design, drawing different meanings from the context in which it is placed.”


Harris P., Ambrose G. (2009) The Fundamentals of Graphic Design, Lausanne: AVA Publishing, 192

Visual Signifiers of Cultures

In looking at different writing systems I tried to explore what visual signifiers made something look like it belongs to a certain culture. Through a series of experiments below I came to the conclusion that something looks like it belongs to a particular culture when it appears in a stylised manner – It may incorporate patterns, lines or shapes into a symbol. This may also include geometric as well as more fluid-like lines and shapes.

I chose an english word and then tried applying characteristics of selected languages to the visual word. I chose the word “huh” as there was a recent study and article written that  said “huh means the same thing in every language”

Each sketch in this experiment seems to be very representative of a particular culture. The characteristics of different writing systems were also combined to form a cross-cultural identity. I tried to apply these experiments into a design of some kind and discovered that the initial “english” word started losing it’s linguistic meaning.

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The word “huh” designed to look Arabic in calligraphy. The forms start resembling middle -eastern architecture, perhaps a mosque.

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With a diacritic added the form turned sideways looks like a person’s face in profile.

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Other observations of these experiments show that materials and colours  further solidifies it’s cultural meaning. The gold enhances the arabic feel. The sense of arabic also changes one’s approach to the forms. Someone may not attempt to read them until they knew it is was english. They are meaningless to non-english speakers while english speakers might assume they are not readable and so make no effort to find linguistic meaning. Arguably this may render the style Asemic.

Application of Arabic patterns

Arabic patterns are much more geometric than European patterns. They use particular kinds of repetition and rotation in that they and are often formed from rotation with 5 or 6 repetitions.

Arabic pattern (6-time rotation)

Here is an experiment I did with 6 rotations and repetition

Huh pattern1a

Some other rotation experiments

To make it more culturally meaningful I applied a middle eastern colour palette


Further exploration into this area and experiments carried out have shown improvements in execution, however these are not shown as they are the basis of further exploration for future projects.

Writings that play with illegibility and their response to practical needs

Asemic writing, according to artist Tim Gaze, “sits on a continuum between abstract images and legible writing.” This type of writing has been growing in recent times and has been extended from poets, calligraphers and visual artists to graphic designers who have been experimenting with this method. Gaze exposes “three different ways for asemic writing to occur: “deliberately made as an illegible form of writing; writing intended to be legible, but for one reason or the other is not legible; and something which accidentally looks like illegible writing. Some of the areas of experimentation include “different typographical arrangements,” intuitive calligraphy and visual poetry.

In discussing “Boundaries of legibility”, Typographer, Adrian Frutiger writes, “It is still difficult for us to make an exact judgement of this anti-reading reaction and its significance. Perhaps something fundamentally new will emerge in the future from a movement that at present is still considered to be decadent.”

According to Roxane Jubert, however, “Curiously, writings that play with illegibility have a more ordinary presence than we might expect.” “Aside from rebellious creations, they can respond to the most practical of needs.”

Jubert offers examples such as the Ishihara test for colour blindenss which “features a number written inside a circle of mulitple coloured dots (often red, orange, green and gray.”


Another example of llegibility she points to are the patters that are found on security papers such as currency and cheques.

Microprinting appears as just a thin line to the naked eye, but can be easily read upon magnification. The introduction of microprinting in 1990 began with the addition of the words “The United States of America” printed around the edge of the portraits. The new bills still use microprinting, but in a different location. These words now appear around Ben Franklin’s lapel. In addition, the words “USA 100” are printed within the lower left “100.”

This image magnifies the tiny print. The “1” is actually less than half an inch in height, and it holds dozens of “USA 100″sPhoto credit: © WGBH Educational Foundation
 Microprinting is very difficult to reproduce accurately on photocopiers because most copiers do not have the ability to work at such high resolution. This situation may not last long, however, as improved scanning devices are now able to print at this fine detailed level. The Treasury hopes the combination of the many anti-replication features will help deter potential counterfeiters.

Other forms of security papers include security envelopes of which the illegible print or patterns are used to hide its contents. Joseph’s King’s ongoing flickr project “to collect and organise envelope and security patterns from around the world” which include abstract forms, cicles, lines, scribbles and cross hatching can be arguably seen as asemic.

Here are some samples from his site:

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Authentication is also an area where there is a use for illegible type. The Captcha is a “program that protects websites against bots by generating and grading tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot.” “Images of text are distorted randomly.”


More to come….

The Writings of My Ancestors and the Merging of Cultures

I seriously don’t know where this aspect of my research is taking me but I found it very interesting.

In researching non-verbal communication and different types of visual languages I came across Saki Mafundikwa, the author of Afrikan Alphabets: The story of writing in Afrika. It is a comprehensive review of African writings systems.


Here are some page samples of the book:


Just recently Mafundikwa gave a TED talk titled Saki Mafundikwa: Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets. In it he speaks of “the creation of a new visual language based on the African creative heritage.”

This interests me as I started wondering about my own heritage as a Trinidadian and a Caribbean woman. What about the creation of a new visual language based on our diverse cultural heritage?

The Caribbean diaspora is a “melting pot” of different cultures. The blood of European, African, East Indian and Indigenous people are engrained in my DNA. Trinidad, the country of my birth has a long history of different people coming to it’s shores and thus enriching the land with their culture.

Many in the world still see the Caribbean as an underdeveloped region with a “laid back” attitude. This is evident in how the Caribbean has been portrayed in film and posters and yes even typographically over the years.

When I did a search for “Caribbean typography” this is what I found.


African Connections

A native of Zimbabwe, Mafundikwa founded his country’s first media college with the intension of creating a “Bauhaus sort of school where new ideas were interrogated and are investigated.” Mafundikwa says his school encourages students to “look inward for creative influence”.

In his talk, he went on to list in detail the different graphic languages in Africa and of particular interest to me was the Abakwa graphic writing of the Congo and Angola.

“The Secret societies of the Yuroba, the congo and Palo religions in Nigeria, Congo and Angola respectively, developed this intricate writing system which is alive and well today in the new world in Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad and Haiti,” he said.

This peeked my interest further so I did a search for ancient writing in Trinidad and I came across an article on a Trinidad and Tobago news blog titled “Freemasonry: Ancient Afrikan / Kemetic / Egyptian communal way of life and being by Dr. Kwame Nantambu, March 9, 2007.

Freemasonry is alive and well in Trinidad. In fact I work just opposite an active lodge with the Freemason symbol on the building.

Could this be their secret language?

In further looking at African graphic writing I came across the works of artist Victor Ekpuk.

“Much of my recent work explores drawing as an independent genre that is not a support
for my painting. Ideas are expressed as directly as possible in simple black or white lines on negative spaces. Color in this case is used when needed to support the drawing.
I am fascinated by graphic and writing systems from ancient African cultures and I am also
engaged in creating contemporary aesthetics out of that idea.
To this end, my current drawing project attempts to deconstruct these graphic symbols and signs. Symbols are recomposed and executed on large surfaces, using pastel and graphite on paper.
The goal is to explore these signs, not necessarily for their intended meanings, but for their
visual aesthetics as abstract forms.

-Victor Ekpuk


Title:Children of the Full Moon

Ekpuk’s drawings somewhat resembles the drawings on the indigenous Caurita Stone in the Maracas Valley in Trinidad.


“It is agreed among Amerindian communities in Trinidad that etchings on the stone bear spiritual significance. The site of the Caurita Stone is now regarded as an important part of the ongoing quest for knowledge and understanding of Amerindian ancestral occupation and life on this island.”

Asemic Writing study update

So while researching more on Asemic Writing I took a look at the movement’s Facebook page ( and wrote a note asking anyone for assistance in locating or pointing to academic writing on the subject.

Michael Jacobson, one of the main authors on asemic writing responded to my request and forwarded me Tim Gaze’s email for more information on the subject.

Tim Gaze is the publisher of Asemic Magazine ( )which is dedicated to asemic writing. He also edited a book with Michael Jacobson called An Anthology of Asemic Writing.

He also has a small press called asemic editions editions which is devoted to publishing works of asemic writing, abstract comics, Lettrisme & similar. It is based in South Australia.

So I wrote to Tim Gaze and to my great joy he wrote me back with a trove of information on asemic writing including the names of some notable practitioners and texts on the subject.

This is a great start to this project and it is a lot to process but I am really excited and can’t wait to see where all this carries me.