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.


Visual Exploration of the Shoulder-Shrug

Another aspect of body language considered to be universal is the shoulder-shrug. It is usually used to indicate a listener does not understand what a speaker is saying.

According to the Centre for Non-Verbal Studies, the shoulder-shrug is a gesture that lifts, raises, or flexes-forward one or both shoulders in response: a. to another person’s statement, question, or physical presence; or b. to one’s own inner thoughts, feelings, and moods. It is also a universal sign of resignation, uncertainty, and submissiveness.

Below are some sketches I did that seem to resemble the shoulder-shrug in a reductionist form – The outcomes are lines and shapes.

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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 – A study


What is Asemic Writing?

Asemic Writing according to poet and asemic writing practitioner Tim Gaze, “is something which looks like a form of writing, but which you can’t read.”

Another practitioner, Michael Jacobson 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.

Gaze and Jacobson published a book together called an An Anthology of Asemic Handwriting. 2013


Henri Michaux, Narration (an excerpt) by Henri Michaux 1972

As Jacobson notes: “The forms that asemic writing may take are many, but its main trait is its resemblance to ‘traditional’ writing—with the distinction of its abandonment of specific semantics, syntax, and communication.”

– See more at:

Traditional English writing /calligraphy looks like this…


Asemic writing as an abstract calligraphy


International Forms and Practice

Asemic writing is also international and mimics different languages and to great extent…


Institution: China Art Gallery
Location: Beijing, China
Materials: Mixed media installation / Hand-printed books and scrolls printed from blocks inscribed with ”false” characters.

Book from the Sky is an installation that took Xu Bing over four years to complete. A Book from The Sky is comprised of printed volumes and scrolls containing four thousand ”false” Chinese characters invented by the artist and then painstakingly hand-cut onto wooden printing blocks.


I got really excited about an exhibition I attended this evening  at the Horizons Art Gallery here in Trinidad.

The work by Artist Shawn Peters was very inspiring especially with regards to my research in non-verbal communication and language.

Peters carves shapes into planks of wood and paints and inscribes hieroglyphic-type writings and images. He also incorporates other materials like thread, nails, and feathers to add context as seen below. The result is somewhat of an ancient tribal approach.

Here is a sample of his work…

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The Broken Dream Catcher with detail showing inscriptions

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Do I Look Worried

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I went to the artist’s Art Ideas board on Pinterest and found that much of his inspiration came from works of architectural and structural themes, weaving, sculpture, abstract forms and glyphs.

Local Similarities

His work reminds me of the Abstract Expressionism Art of local artists Carlise Chang (deceased), Master Artist Leroy Clarke and artist Willi Chen.

willi chen

Solar Marinorama 1983 | Willi Chen (b.1934) | 14’0″x64’0″ | Steel, copper, brass and acrylic enamel


The Inherent Nobility of Man by Carlisle Chang. Detail 1962 – See more at:

Dust 2 pg 5

The painting Weavers of the Dust by master artist LeRoy Clarke done in the 1970’s