An eclectic array of installations recently popped up at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, transforming the historic neighborhood into a temporary wonderland teeming with quirky characters, large-scale interventions, and optimism. A life-size piñata shaped like a 1984 Thunderbird is parked on 12th Street, cross-stitched roses trail across the brick facade of Building 99, and a typographic message casts shadows on a pavilion in a call for hope.
Officially titled Mystery Island and the Marvelous Occurrence of Spontaneous Art, or MIMOSA, the entirely outdoor exhibition includes work from seven artists DAKU (previously), Justin Favela (previously), Kid Hazo with South Fellini, Reed Bmore, Liesbet Bussche, and Raquel Rodrigo (previously). It’s a collaboration between the anonymous collective Group X and the Navy Yard, which was overrun in 2018 by a gargantuan sea monster. MIMOSA‘s six site-specific installations are spread across 1,200 acres.
Activated by sunlight, DAKU’s installation “Rays of Hope” casts shadows in 25 different languages on a brick terrace in Crescent Park. Throughout the day as the light shifts, so do the silhouettes on the ground. “The sun has always been associated as a symbol of energy and so is hope,” DAKU says. Rays of light metaphorically serve as “a symbol of positivity and optimism.”
By translating the word “hope” into dozens of languages, the anonymous Indian street artist puts forth a welcoming vision. “When we see a native language, we have a sense of belonging and familiarity with the space. Especially in a foreign land or a place, it makes it more relatable,” DAKU writes. “Languages have been a part of every culture and (have their) own visual aesthetic… Culture is common ground for any language or a form of visual art, and if one comes to think of it, language plays an essential role. It binds the culture in forming into a community.”
A nod to his mother’s first purchase after immigrating from Guatemala to the United States in the 1980s, Favela’s paper-fringed car expands on the myth of “The American Dream.” “The promise that if you keep your head down, work really hard and save your money… you, too, can own a home with a two-car garage, get married, have kids, build an empire, and live an abundant and dignified life,” he says. Through his large-scale piñatas, Favela conveys stories like his mother’s, particularly in relation to her longing to return to Central America. “What about the immigrants that come here and realize that they moved to a country that does not want them here? Their stories are also important,” he says.
Questions about identity, including his own as a first-generation, queer, Latinx American, and the experiences of people who have immigrated to the U.S. face inform Favela’s artworks. He subverts common narratives by offering a revised way of thinking centered on joy:
What are we when we are not viewed as just a labor force? What if we stopped taking pride in suffering and the sacrifices that we had to make? What if we valued joy? Mental health? What if we could take a couple of days of…just because!? What would happen if could just be ourselves? When will we all be free?
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In 2016 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that 2019 would be the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The declaration’s goal was to raise awareness for disappearing language systems around the world, while mobilizing a coordinated global effort to help preserve them. At the time of the meeting it was estimated that 40% of the world’s 6,700 languages were at risk of disappearing. This threatens the history of the associated cultures, while also erasing thousands of years of knowledge systems valuable for protecting the environment, peace making, and national resource development.
The Endangered Alphabets Project is a Vermont-based nonprofit organization that supports endangered, minority, and indigenous cultures by helping to preserve their writing systems. For the past six years they have researched and compiled information on endangered languages, exhibited artwork using the cultures’ sayings, proverbs, and spiritual texts, and partnered with organizations to publish educational materials and games in endangered languages. Through their research they have also created an interactive website that tracks these languages across the globe. The Atlas of Endangered Alphabets is a clickable map compiled from languages across the world. Many of these scripts do not have an official status in their country, state, or province, and are not taught in government-funded schools.
“My goal is to include scripts from indigenous and minority cultures who are in danger of losing their sense of history, identity, and purpose and who are trying to protect, preserve and/or revive their writing system as a way of reconnecting to their past, their dignity, their sense of a way ahead,” explained Tim Brookes, the founder and president of the Endangered Alphabets Project. “A traditional script is a visual reminder of a people’s identity—as we can tell by the number of cultures that continue to use their script as an emblem (on printed invitations, on shop fronts, even on the national flag) long after most people have stopped using it for everyday purposes.”
As a general rule, the atlas is guided by Article 13 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says: “Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.” The project is therefore not necessarily about the language, but about the people that speak and continue to carry these writing systems as tradition.
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Matt Baker of Useful Charts creates helpful visual guides that condense hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years of history into streamlined flowcharts. His poster Evolution of the Alphabet looks at nearly 3,800 years of the alphabet’s evolution, tracing it from Egyptian hieroglyphs (c. 1750 BCE) through Phoenician, early Greek and Latin, and finally to the present forms we use today. The limited edition print shows that some letters have appeared relatively the same for millennia, while others, like U, V, and W, developed much closer to our own time period from a single character.
The design was created in association with his Writing Systems of the World chart which takes a look at 51 different writing systems from around the world. Baker has each of these prints for sale on his website and Etsy. You can listen to his explain these systems, and their evolution in greater detail in his video “History of the Alphabet” below and view more timelines of historical developments on his website, Youtube, and Instagram. (via Kottke)
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Pseudonymous Indian street artist DAKU recently installed an immersive text-based work in Panjim, Goa. Placed along 31st January Road, a fishnet structure suspends letters above pedestrians. The region’s abundant sunlight pours through to cast shadows on the street, spelling out tropes about the passage of time. Some of the phrases include, “Time works wonders. Time moves. Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. Time fades. Time is an illusion.” The temporary installation, titled Theory of Time, was supported by the public art nonprofit St+art India, as part of the Start Goa festival. DAKU often integrates language into his urban interventions. You can see more from the artist on Instagram.
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Mysteries of Vernacular is an ongoing video series by NYC-based Myriapod Productions that explores the etymology of individual words through a carefully animated book. According to Myriapod the series will eventually include 26 stories, each of which takes nearly 80 hours to research, construct and animate. Since taking Latin in high school I’ve been keenly aware of the bizarre ways in which different cultures appropriate and modify language, but this series really casts an engaging light on the whole messy ordeal. (via flavorwire)
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A great piece by Everynone, a production company out of NYC/LA.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.