Talking Through Symbols

For centuries, Iranian people often have hidden their true messages in layers of symbolism and metaphors to overcome the deep-rooted lack of freedom of speech. Coded languages are wide-spread in literature, art, and everyday speaking as a way to communicate messages while avoiding the consequences.

I developed a coded visual system based on the abstract forms and traditional Persian motifs. Through these metaphors, I spotlight this important, enduring, and mostly ignored issue—one that many people in the world, including people of my country, are experiencing. My audience is invited to decode the messages, with the provided key, and help the silenced voices to be heard.

In order to code the language, I developed a system to generate an abstract visual language. At the end of the coding process, an abstract shape, which is created by the overlapping of up to four layers of symbols, represents each letter. To decide which letter is made of what symbols, I assigned a code to each letter. Based on this code system, each letter has 4 digits that can have a value of O, X, or null.

The table below shows how different values of 4 layers are assigned to different visual characteristics. Later I’ll explain how these values are translated into symbols.

The first or background layer is the only layer that appears in every letter. It is one of the two groups of cold or warm colors. Or in the monochrome systems white and a color/black. All the symbols are going to have a perfect square shape. The graph below shows how each layer and its borders are positioned on top of each other.

The second layer is the border. Borders are either geometric, which are different forms of a straight line, or are based on traditional motifs.

All the symbols I designed are one of the two groups of traditional or geometric, which represents one of the many dualities I’m facing: tradition vs. modernity. There is no overlap between the second and the third layer, so they are easily distinguishable from each other.

The fourth layer is the one that appears the least in the symbols since most of the letters have null as their fourth layer. It is the smallest component as well and sits right on top of all the other layers.

There are up to 1,715,000 different ways to create a letter with my system, depending on how many active layers that letter has. Here is a sample of one set of alphabet created with the system.

My initial plan for the thesis show was to have a large scale installation of one set of the symbol alphabet. I wanted to have four rows with seven letters in each row. Each letter would have four layers of acrylic hung with space from each other, and each acrylic sheet would have one symbol silkscreen printed on it. The transparency of the acrylic sheet would let the viewer see layers separately and also at a certain perspective, see all the layers on top of each other. I was planning to have extra acrylic sheet layers available for the audience to interact with and create their letters and words with the key provided.

While in self-isolation due to the 2020 pandemic, with no access to the facilities and no possibilities for making the old plans work, I decided to teach myself 3D modeling to be able to still bring to life what I’d been picturing in my head for the final show.

You can see the complete process of Talking Through Symbols in addition to my graduate projects leading to its concept Here.