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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Portland-based artist Christina Mrozik (previously) closely observes flora and fauna to create hybrid drawings that unite the two in haunting new forms. In her monochrome work hair springs from hollow snake skins, claws emerge from floral bulbs, and spiders reveal human-like innards. Although there is a nightmarish quality to these unnatural combinations, a graceful undercurrent marks the way each invented creature twists upon the page.
Recently Mrozik compiled a collection of drawings and writings she created while moving through a period of depression. Despite their surreal composition, they express the deeply human emotions of loss and fear. “Merging pieces of organ, flora, and animal, these faceless drawings are an attempt to capture the ‘haunted’ feeling of inaccessibility, expressing an experience outside the clarity of language,” she explains. “Releasing this collection as a book creates a physical reminder both of the reality of a difficult circumstance, and the community moving through the common casualty of life alongside you. It creates the space that only books can, where one can participate whilst in the solitude of their experience.”
Her new book, Haunted Bodies: An Art Book of Poems and Drawings is currently being funded through Kickstarter. You can see more of her drawings, illustrations, and recent ceramic works on her website and Instagram.
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German seamstress Agnes Richter (1844–1918) was a patient at the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic during the 1890s. While held at the asylum she would densely embroider her standard issue straitjacket, stitching the object with words, phrases, and diaristic entries in deutsche schrift, an old German script. The layers of language make it difficult to distinguish a beginning or end to the writing, and only fragmented phrases have been deciphered from the jacket such as “I am not big,” “I wish to read,” and “I plunge headlong into disaster.”
The object is a part of the Prinzhorn Collection at the University of Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic, named after collector and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn. The collection contains over 5,000 paintings, wooden sculptures, sketches, and other art-based ephemera from patients at the hospital, collected by the psychiatrist during the early 20th-century. This vast collection of work made by psychiatric patients has had a major influence on a modern understanding of “outsider art,” or the artwork created by self-taught artists who have had little to no contact with the mainstream art world.
Over a century later, the jacket remains a powerful item, a lasting object that showcases how one woman transformed a sterile and impersonal garment into a rich record of her life’s journey. (via #WOMENSART)
Update: Sources vary as to whether this article of clothing was Richter’s straitjacket, a regular jacket, or part of a non-restrictive institutional uniform.
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Need to kill a few minutes while waiting for a bus or train? Instead of mindlessly staring at your phone or twiddling your thumbs, why not print out a quick short story. A small start-up in Grenoble, France aims to do just that with the Short Edition vending machine. The machines were conceived by Short Edition co-founder Christophe Sibieude who was standing in front of a traditional candy vending machine and questioned if there might be a better way to pass the time other than snacking.
So far, eight of the minimalistic vending machines have been installed around the city, each of which has three buttons that correlate with how much reading time you have to spare: 1, 3, or 5 minutes. The stories print instantly on narrow receipt paper which makes for easy reading and storage. The randomly printed stories are written by the Short Edition community, and also include poems and other forms of experimental short fiction.
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.