Our universal acceptance of emojis and hashtags in everyday life today is one small nod to the importance of symbols for communication. We respond to a friend’s text with a picture of a bumped fist, hands clapping, or a lady swinging her skirt dancing. Instantly we recognize and connect meaning to a short communication.
New Mexico, my home state, is a tri-cultural area, that connects Native American, Hispanic and Anglo heritage. The shared stories of this magical place connect us to petroglyphs, animal totems, icons of faith, and many more representations.
Throughout the ages symbols have helped us communicate with meaning. One book, “The Silence of the Women, Bamana Mud Cloths” documents conversations by women in white on black cotton cloth. The women of Bali West Africa design cloth for important life occasions. What appear to be simple, white geometric patterns on black background are conversations about everything from marriage and the expected behavior of women to male power, childbearing, infertility and drought.
The book practically jumped into my hands at a museum in San Francisco when I visited my sister there. I gazed so intensely at its illustrations that my sister gifted it to me without hesitation, knowing I would spend hours studying the stories behind the lines. Imagine using the placement of a single line to indicate your thoughts.
It’s fascinating to realize the repeated crosshatching or turning circles lines carry a consistency of message from one village to another, from men to women, from artist to artist. Many times these symbols focused on the practical. Simple visual analysis simply is what it is with no hidden interpretation or secret meaning.
My interest in symbology encouraged me to explore the markings on brass castings sold to me by an African trader. I compared the lines to known African tribal symbols and added commentary with special beaded additions.
Consider the placement of lines in relationship to each other. According to West African wisdom, this symbol entitled MFRAMADAN connotes “wind resistant house.” Yet, it also signifies fortitude and preparedness.
In the pendant above the same MFRA lines are presented horizontally. I added a blue lapis bird, the image of a sun charm and a turquoise bear and called it loyalty.
A loose interpretation of these symbols adds significance to my summer t-shirt necklaces. See what you think.
A delicate pink rose increases the imagery of the heart.
Vintage trade beads combined with colorful glass contribute to the interpretation of possible.
How do you show that symbols illustrate life meaning?