Surface Asia Magazine Publication: Rediscovering @Icograda #NewMayaLanguage

Australia, Design, Fashion design, Frida Larios, Jewellery Design, Kuching, Language, New Maya Language, New Zealand, Sarawak, Sustainable Design
(CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT) Iban Tattoos by Ernesto Kalum; Karijini National Park Visitor Centre by David Lancashire; The Teraph Cabinet series by Helmut Lueckenhausen; Green Child Puzzle by Frida Larios

(CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT) Iban Tattoos by Ernesto Kalum; Karijini National Park Visitor Centre by David Lancashire; The Teraph Cabinet series by Helmut Lueckenhausen; Green Child Puzzle by Frida Larios

“In the process of globalisation, everybody is losing a bit of his individuality … It is very timely for us designers to explore this issue – to rediscover who we are, and to celebrate our unique heritage. Let us take a step back so that we can go forward.” Russell Kennedy, Icograda past president.

Text extract
Frida Larios is an Ambassador for INDIGO – the International Indigenous Design Network. Originally from San Salvador, Larios was inspired by Maya heritage, especially in the ancient Maya hieroglyphs. Her work during her postgraduate study gave birth to the “New Maya Language,” a set of twenty-three hieroglyphs that tells the story of her studied site, the Joya de Cerén UNESCO World Heritage Archaeological Site. The design process of “New Maya Language” involved streamlining the iconography of the ancient writing system and combining it with a modern visual vocabulary to create a standardised pictogram system that is comprehensible to contemporary audience. The result is a set of modern yet ancestral icons that is versatile in various applications: art, product and fashion design, brand identities, information design, wayfinding and education systems for archaeological sites and public spaces, as well as children’s toys. Larios says that:

“by reviving and celebrating the Maya cultural and visual identity, the ‘New Maya Language’ can inspire current and future generations and bring new life to the sacred stones.”

In keeping with the intention of safeguarding traditional culture, Larios has fostered close collaboration with indigenous craftsmen to produce items using local resources.

Mother Tongue Exhibition Report From Taipei, Taiwan

Art, Design, Frida Larios, Graphic Design, Language, New Maya Language, Taipei

Written by Paola Torres, Frida Larios’ studio intern.

Being an international student, I felt flattered with my recent experience. As an Adobe Design Achievement Award finalist, I received a ticket to Taipei to attend the ADAA Awards, the Taipei World Design Expo 2011, and the 2011 IDA Congress. Taipei is an amasing city, with gorgeous monuments, a super well-organised transportation system, fabulous people, and of course, exotic food.

Once in Taipei, I had the opportunity to visit the Originality 100 – International Indigenous Cultural And Creative Design Exhibition at the National Taiwan University of the Arts’ Art Museum. This collection exhibited more than 100 pieces of international cross-cultural and domestic aboriginal designs. The designs originated from aboriginal cultures and totems, combining current design concepts and applications.

Mother Tongue exhibition is an INDIGO – the International Indigenous Design Network – project. It is a cross-cultural platform to open discussion around the role of contemporary indigenous design and to encourage collaborative projects that deepen our understanding of people’s culture in our visual world of this 21 century.

The exhibition’s introduction read like this:

Mother Tongue – a rapidly changing concept in a world where growing immigration affects not only the economic and social structure of the host

society, but also its culture and, as such, its language.

27 posters were selected from over 500 by designers from around the world. I felt proud when I contemplated the calligraphy poster design of my boss/mentor/teacher/inspiration, Frida Larios. The description of her Mayan poster, named yal-Child of Mother, read the following way:

The Maya natives of Mesoamerica, in their nearly 2000-year ancient hieroglyphic writing, pictured the “thumbs-up” hand as a symbol of harvesting, completing, and binding. In the case of the word ya-AL (yal), the harvest is a child – the fruits of the womb. In the same way our mother tongue is the product of our upbringing and culture. The flames represent the fire coming out of our mouth when we speak – when we speak with the passion of our native language.

I loved the idea of how designers nowadays are involved in this global culture. The role of designers here is crucial, and it is what will someday make a difference in our rapidly changing world. This exhibition was not just a design exhibition. I felt it was design for the people, for the world, its different cultures, and each others roots. Frida Larios, and the rest of the designers, deal with issues about life itself. It is not easy to understand cultures, especially when such racial differences are affecting our society. This exhibition was about a connection to the earth, about learning to accept diversity, and about respecting what others conceive as their Mother Tongue.

All photographs courtesy of Paola Torres, except were noted.

Back to our Roots to Become Different

El Salvador, Frida Larios, Indigenous, Indigo, Madrid, Montreal, New Maya Language

Article featured in Yorokobu Design Magazine July-August 2010 print edition in Madrid, Spain.

By Marcus Hurst

Indigo promotes a coming together between designers and indigenous culture in search for distinctive elements in a world that is day by day more homogenous.
“Globalisation is standardising everything.  We share languages, in many cases, English.  A uniform design aesthetic is starting to impose itself.  In an environment where the local and global breathe next to one another we cannot forget about our roots”, said Russell Kennedy, Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) President.

PORTADA_YOROKOBU_09_JULIO_2010 INTERIOR_YOROKOBU09_JULIO2010INTERIOR_YOROKOBU09_JULIO2010INTERIOR_YOROKOBU09_JULIO2010Since 2006 Kennedy is one of Indigo’s promoters, an organisation that helps study and experiment with indigenous design.  The aim is to explore different ways of highlighting and exploiting its identity without appropriating its customs.

“It is a very delicate subject because a lot of the times it has many political and colonial connotations.  With Indigo we have wanted to create a network of designers that explore this field.  At first, it was born to study the aboriginal peoples and the American Indians.  Upon advancing with the project we realised it is a theme that can be applied to any part of the world.  It has special relevance in Asia where countries are trying to establish a differentiating element.”

According to Kennedy, cultures’ over-protection prevents evolution. “In Australia, on the other hand, there is the belief that indigenous cultures need to be protected above all and the museums do it very well.  But sometimes this obsession doesn’t allow for their culture to change and evolve.”

The New Maya Language
Frida Larios is one of the designers who actively participates in Indigo as an ambassador.  In her case, she has done by exploring ways of redesigning Maya art and design and translating it to our present context.

In what year did you start the project? It started in 2004, when I was studying my masters in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London.  I was the first Salvadorean woman to study there – ¿How could I not look for my own roots within an institution, and city, with marked avant-gardé tendencies? The Maya are one of the founding six pillars of the civilised world.  Nonetheless, there is a lack of recognition of their intelligent and advanced hieroglyphic language’s art form, within Mesoamerica – a term used for the shared Maya geographical area within Central America – itself, and beyond its boundaries.

How has it evolved? The project is a unique system, in content and style, which rescues the dead written language created by the Maya civilisation across Mesoamerica 300 BC.  The New Maya Language’s vision is the recreation, re-composition and contemporary life’s application in different media: art, product and fashion design, brand identities, information design, navigation and education in archaeological sites and public spaces, children’s toys.  It has been warmly received by public and private entities in Central America.  Through its applications, it aspires to promote culture, education and play.  These three characteristics are its developmental roots.  Whether it is by instigating conceptual thinking through a 0 – 12 year-old boy or girl’s game, through a t-shirt design or, simply by being appreciated through my artworks, which to-date have been acquired by collectors around the world.

Do you continue to explore indigenous art application in design? This is a project that has as much application ground as desired – it can even be expanded to other hieroglyphic languages.  Hence, my goal is for it to always remain democratic, accessible, not only to northern hemispheres’ academics who are the ones who command the hieroglyphic writing knowledge, but to common Mesoamerican citizens.  Above all, and this is one of the shared objectives with my fellow INDIGO colleagues, I want it to be inclusive of native inhabitants so that they have the opportunity to recreate themselves in it.  A lot of these populations are illiterate and my New Maya Language, in a certain way, even touches their emotional fiber.  It is a language without words that makes them feel included in a world where the letters of the alphabet are their uppermost barrier.

What does a designer have to consider when inspiring him or herself in indigenous art and communication? Does he or she have to avoid appropriating his or her culture? In my case I illustrated how it came to light, decoded it so that others could understand where each line, each form and each concept came from.  First by explaining in my book, the original Maya hieroglyphic language to then arrive to what I can call my own, or of my own intellectual property, and the formula for each pictogram’s creation.

Before being historians, mathematicians, or astronomers, they were artists.  Their writing not only gathered the political life and other relevant affairs, but it was also a work of art in itself manifested through different mediums: stone sculpture, ceramics, murals, calligraphic manuscripts, garments and utilitarian products, etc.  There is not much difference between a practicing artist or designer in our days, right? Except that our profession is not as valued as in those old times, in which – like Mayanist Michael D. Coe says – “artists could even be kings.”  It was indeed a royal profession.  When a designer attempts to develop indigenous-iconography based designs, he or she must preserve the ancestral artists’ spirit at the time of creation, highlighting, and not merely reproducing, their own culture.

Do you think Latin American countries should deepen in their roots to reinforce design with an individual identity instead of obsessing with what Anglo-Saxon countries do? But of course. There are parameters at the time of designing, or international design standards, which in fact, were born in the Anglo-Saxon world.  But this is very different to searching for inspiration in European styles that breed from their own history and tradition.  Why not look for inspiration in what is ours, which by the way is very different to the rest? Indigenous cultures had magnificent artistic development, sourcing themselves in their natural and social environment, respecting it.  If we Central American designers, had been able to continue until our present days with that legacy – a development defrauded by many conquests during the course of over 500 years – the roles would be reversed and it would be the western world looking for reference in our culture.  Today, we would be kings.

You can download the Spanish published PDF version here:

Yorokobu – Volver a las Raíces para Ser Diferentes – versión Español.

Or comment on the article on the INDIGO website.