WE CONTAIN MULTITUDES
I designed a website experience for my senior degree project. Please feel free to view and explore it here:
During my fall semester of college last year, I took a class on postcolonial theory that had left a lasting impact on me. I have often thought about themes of multiculturalism and how people are placed in a rapidly developing world with high mobility, where interactions are more frequent and, for the most part, know no geographical boundaries. The topic and question of identity, in varying aspects, has also been no stranger to me. The insightful writings of postcolonial theorists and authors have left me inspired, and my senior degree project stems from such a mindset.
Because graphic design is quite commonly and widely known to be involved in a commercial market, I wanted to take the opportunity to depart from that direction, and instead, attempt to combine my interests in design, critical theory, and identity. I wanted to challenge myself with a project outside of my comfort zone, where the end-product is both experimental and unknown.
My first step was to conduct research and archive images, techniques and formats that I found successful in their representation of hybridity in human identity. I also spent weeks examining postcolonial writings, creating mind maps, and taking note of important ideas and recurring vocabulary of words.
Guided by these sets of words, I began sketching and making with hopes of translating the ideas visually. I spent some time clarifying the ‘what,’ ‘how,’ and ‘why.’ Although I initially planned to have a printed piece as my final deliverable, I eventually decided on creating a website, which would be more applicable for curating an experience with a series of mini-narratives and interactions. This direction pushed me to learn a new program, Adobe Muse, which is a great application for someone who only has basic coding experience like myself.
A SURVEY OF
All of the design decisions I made were deliberate and with meaning, from the shapes, to the images, to the overall order of sections. They may not be obvious to all, but that does not discourage the audience to find their own meaning or interpretation of what they see.
A Breakdown of Visual Elements:
The introductory section of the site is an ongoing transition of mixed faces. A person’s physical appearance or behavior is the very first thing about hisor her identity that gets noticed. But just as there is tangible culture that shapes identities, there exists, of course, intangible, invisible culture underneath the surface of how people are represented externally. For this reason, I began the experience with physical characteristics, then tried to move away from that as I went deeper into the website.
The following section on gender and orientation is intended to reference their fluidity and interchangeability.
A (Pacific-centric) world map is next in the sequence. The expanding circles—many overlapping—are meant to symbolize our intersecting lives, and to show that each individual’s world, no longer confined by borders, is an expansive sphere of people, places and culture.
Masking objects is a way to hide and reveal parts of an image as the user scrolls on the page. Words appear when the pointer hovers over one of the three masked circles: beliefs, history, and lifestyle respectively. The last circle is a looped graphic of television static, my way of referencing liminality.
After this segment is a bit on ‘traveling cultures,’ excerpted from an essay by James Clifford. When hovering over parts of the collaged mountain range, a textile pattern (referencing trade) would appear in its place. The quotation ‘Culture as travel’ changes to ‘Culture as sites traversed’ in the middle of scrolling.
Language is addressed in the next part. I wanted to allude to it without using a specific and recognizeable alphabet or writing system. The empty frames symbolize lack and incompleteness, parts of an identity that have yet to come into fruition. The forever-spinning, loading graphic is a metaphor for identity being a non-static continuous process.
A notable poem that I happened upon during my research that I’m quite taken with is by Gloria Anzaldúa, found in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. The sentiment that she establishes is something I believe is common in today’s world, and I wanted to include a part of it in my project.
Because I, a mestiza,
continually walk out of one culture
and into another,
because I am in all cultures at the same time,
alma entre dos mundos, tres, cuatro,
me zumba la cabeza con lo contradictorio.
Estoy norteada por todas las voces que me hablan
Contexts and associations are important, so I created a small slideshow of images, selected from different times containing different people engaged in actions of various meanings, and superimposed a constant element of a red circle over them. When the user clicks and goes through the slideshow, the significance of the circle changes with the context. What is happening here can be applied to people, whose identities—existing as representations—shift depending on their environment.
The conclusion is the title of this project itself, “We Contain Multitudes,” which is adapted from a line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
This website was presented alongside a series of layered posters for the MICA 2014 Commencement Exhibition. Mini cards that contain the website’s URL were set by the computer as take-away items for the visitors.
The layers of the posters are in reference to the multiple components to a person’s identity that come together to make up a whole. The center poster has a reflective surface sitting on the final layer, so as people come and go, what they see is conditional and changing, affected by the viewers themselves. All of the elements used maintain the visual vocabulary of the website experience.
While the photographs of people for the first two sections of the website were taken by myself personally (special thanks to my kind participants!), all of the other imagery was taken from online sources, and therefore are not mine.
I would like to personally thank my instructor Kristen Spilman for her guidance and support, my professor Soheila Ghaussy for her enlightening class and the great resources, and my good friend Jess Wen for her steadfast help and encouragement. This exhibition could not have happened without them.
Childs and Williams. “Bhabha’s Hybridity.” In P. Childs and P. Williams, eds. An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. London: Prentice Hall, 1997. 157-184.
Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” In P. Williams and L. Christman, eds. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.392-403.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987. Print.
Brah, Avtar. Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Clifford, James. “Traveling Cultures.” Cultural Studies. Ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler. New York: Routledge, 1992. 96-116. Print.
Atkinson, David. Cultural Geography : A Critical Dictionary Of Key Concepts. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 27 Jan. 2014.
Pollock, David C., and Ruth E. Van Reken. Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Rev. ed. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Pub., 2009. Print..