Motifs are culturally relevant symbols (like hands and eyes) used by Deaf artists to communicate overall themes in their artwork.
Most examples are found in the De’VIA [Feb. 2015 or Feb. 2016] Challenge listings at https://deviacurr.wordpress.com/devia-curr/devia-motifs/28-day-chall-motifs-2015/
As part of the De’VIA curriculum, we have a growing list of MOTIFS (symbols commonly
found in works about the Deaf experience). This list will be updated from time to time as new motifs are discovered and/or emerge.
We also have ASL videos for some of the motifs as a teaching tool. Feel free to leave comments about new motifs and/or ask questions. Links to De’VIA artworks featuring motifs are welcome.
Examples of De’VIA Motifs from De’VIA 2016 Feb 29 Days Challenge
Day 1 CHAIR
Meaning: Chairs have a number of meanings in De’VIA art: isolation, passivity, emptiness, but also welcoming, collectivism. Chairs can represent restrictive activity, places where Deaf children are forced into as well as a part of Deaf space (especially when used with round tables).
Examples: Three White Chairs by Betty G. Miller, The Hearing Test Room by Nancy Rourke. A Party of One by Mary Rappazzo, Bell School, 2014 by David Call.
Examples from 2016 challenge:Day 1 chair DeVIA challenge 2016
Day 2 FISH
Meaning: Deaf Identity, Communicative underwater, Deaf People.
Day 3 SHADOW
Meaning: something hidden, a message
Examples: Detour by Chuck Baird, Newborn Hearing Screening by Nancy Rourke
Examples from 2016 challenge
Day 4 WINDOW
Meaning: Windows, because they can be seen through, represent a lack of barriers. They are visual symbols and are
passage ways/openings to Deaf spaces and the World.
Examples: Introspection I by Tony Folwer and …And There Was Light by Patti Durr.
Day 5 BELL
Meaning: Bells represent sound and the testing of hearing ability. Bells can be used to distract Hearing people and get their attention.
Examples: see Your Joy, My Pain by David Call and Cowbell Wristbands by Ellen Mansfield. Also see Liberation by Warren Miller
Examples from 2016 challenge
Day 6 BIRDHOUSE
Meaning: Deaf communities, safe haven, safe from audism and oppression.
Example: The Birds of Eyeth by David Call
Day 7 MAZE
Meaning: confusion, lost, repetitions, nowhere to go, no hope.
Examples: Stairs to Nowhere by David Call, Deaf Education Pinball by Paul Johnston.
Day 8 LANTERN
Meaning: searching for truth, truth seeking, or ancestors.
Examples: Chercher by Susan Dupor, The Lost Mural by Nancy Rourke
Day 9 BLOOD DROP/TEAR
Meaning: eye stare becomes exhausted, close attention, repetition,
Examples: Oralism Hardship by Ellen Mansfield,
Day 10 INTERPRETER
Meaning: Interpreters often represent access to communication between Deaf and Hearing people.
Examples: Interpreter by Betty G. Miller
Day 11 ROPE
Meaning: tug-a-war, struggling, tied-up.
Example: Deadlock by Chuck Baird, The Old Debate: Manualism vs Oralism by Nancy Rourke
Day 12 MOUNTAIN
Meaning: Mountains symbolize the strength and survival of the Deaf community and Deaf culture standing strong against the “waves of oralism.” (based on a quote from Paddy Ladd).
Examples: Coming Home Mural by various artists and Veditz Building the Mountain by Patti Durr.
Day 13 BIRDCAGE
Meaning: held back by something, either physically or emotionally.
Examples: Caged by Noel King
Day 14 STREAM A/R OPTION
Meaning: A stream can represent smooth travel and navigation through the world without significant barriers. The environment of streams and water represent places where Deaf people naturally fit and being able to hear is not an “advantage.” Stream also means between both worlds, feeling splitted for resistance work.
Examples: De’Humankind by Ellen Mansfield and Stream of Consciousness by Susan Dupor.
Day 15 WIND-UP KEY
Meaning: repeat, repetition, flashback, bad memories.
Examples: MAMA, MAMA, MAMA by David Call.
Day 16 DEAF UNION FLAG
Meaning: The Deaf Union Flag (created by Arnaud Balard) represents Deaf unity—the unity of signing peoples as well as the globalization of the Deaf and Deaf-Blind experience.
Category: in general, works with this motif are categorized as affirmation works
Examples: Solidarity by Nancy Rourke and V ictory by Patti Durr
Day 17 HOURGLASS
Meaning: running out of time.
Examples: Running Out of Time by David Call
Day 18 THIRD EYE
Meaning: Collective Conciousness,
Examples: 2013 De’VIA mural.
Day 19 HARLEQUIN/JESTER
Meaning: joker, someone who lies, phony personality
Examples: Victim at Oral School by Darlene Weir
Day 20 MOTHER OF ALL DEAF SOULS
Meaning: Mother protects the Deaf community, cherishes Deaf babies. Safe place.
Examples: The Destiny by David Call.
Day 21 ZIPPER
Meaning: keeping the truth from unveiled, keeping quiet, colonized,
Examples: AGBELL’s Approval by Kat Brockway
Day 22 BRIDGE
Meaning: bringing both worlds together, coalition, connect, teamwork, reinforcement.
Examples: Language Equality by Nancy Rourke
Day 23 FENCE
Meaning: within bounderies, barriers, protection.
Day 24 NEST
Meaning: A nest is a nurturing Deaf space. It represents a community protecting, sheltering and fostering a future generation.
Category: in general, works with this motif are categorized as affirmation works
Examples: Our Precious Nest by Nancy Rourke and Martha’s Vineyard, Mother Nest by David Call.
Day 25 BLACK HOLE
Meaning: in the pit, disappearance, Black holes represent Audism, it takes away Deaf identity and Deaf Culture.
Examples: Color ASL by Nancy Rourke
Day 26 MOTH
Meaning: Need for light, Deaf people in the kitchen.
Examples: Moth’s Night by Daniel Winship.
Day 27 BUTTON EYE
Meaning: doll, brainwashed, colonized. Hides Deaf Identity.
Examples: Submission by David Call
Day 28 DANDELION A/R OPTION
Meaning: Dandelions symbolize nature, and natural-growing things that are sometimes viewed by the majority/dominant culture as undesirable. Dandelions refer to growth and future in the face of this oppression. [Based on an ASL poem by Clayton Valli] (see also the related motif of flower)
Examples: Les signes volent au gré du vent by Arnaud Balard and DEAF-GAIN: self-portrait by Ellen Mansfield, (see also De’VIA [Feb. 2015] Challenge Day 8 and Nancy Rourke’s Dandelions
Day 29 TREASURE BOX
Meaning: Treasure box really means a box of valuable ASL.
Examples: The Treasure by Ella Mae Lentz, ASL LIT
Examples of De’VIA Motifs from De’VIA 2015 Feb 28 Days Challenge
Day 1 chain motif day-1-_-chain-motif-pdf
Day 2 light bulb motif day-2-lightbulb-revised-motif-pdf
Day 3 feather motif Day 3 Feather motif pdf(2)
Day 4 Day4motifHANDaffirmative
Day 5 Day5motifMIRROR
Day 6 Day6HANDSTANDaffirmative
Day 7 Day7motifLOCKresistance
Day 8 Day8motifFLOWERaffirmative
Day 9 Day9motifPROFITresistance
Day 10 Day10motifBUTTERFLYaffirmative
Day 11 Day11motifJIGSAWPUZZLEresistance
Day 12 Day12motifCANDLEaffirmative
Day 13 Day13motifAGBELLresistance
Day 14 Day14LADDERmotif
Day 15 Day15 BLUE TAPEresistance
Day 16 Day16motifEYE_affirmative
Day 17 Day17motifHOOKresistance
Day 18 Day18 motif TREE affirmative
Day 19 Day19 MASK motif resistance
Day 20 Day20motifBABYaffirmative
Day 21 Day21motifNAILSCREWSresistance
Day 22 Day22motifHANDHOLDINGaffirmative
Day 23 Day23motifPUPPETresistance
Day 24 Day24motifSOLIDARITYFIST
Day 25 Day 25 OCTOPUS motif 28 Day Challenge
Day 26 Day 26 DOOR motif
Day 27 Day 27 Checkerboard motif
Day 28 Day 28 Round Table motif
Scroll down for chart of Animal Motifs
De’VIA MOTIFS –Resistance and Affirmative themes
arrow– resistance- attacking, harming, trying to kill or stop or destroy.
band aid –
birdhouse– affirmative- David’s motif, that refers to Deaf community, close knitted, family.
black hole– resistance- invasion, attacking, Second Wave of Oralism, Deaf Disempowerment.
button eyes– resistance- no visual acuity or input, no state of agency or autonomy, a doll, toy, void of independence.
cochlear implants –
CROWN– resistance- A crown is to intimidate us enough to bow, show respect, and accept their values and appraisal of the Deaf/HH persons’ way of life. The additional rubies and gems on the crown are the evidences of making profits based on their privileges. Those people are speech teachers, audiologists, organizations that do not support sign language, the authoritarians of the deaf education. One of Hinda Kasher’s paintings, “What is Deaf Education?” had an authoritarian man figure, with gold and some rubies crown on the left ear, with pierced barbed wire, which is a representation of the system of the Deaf Education. Forcing the implementation in listening and speaking only for D/HH children, making decisions for innocent D/HH children, and manipulating the hearing parents. “I like to use both symbols of crown and skeleton in the same composition. Skeleton illustrated the hunger for equality. The crown and skeletons point out my personal experience in different education settings and yet my needs were not met. I hope our future children will not experience what I went through.”
Deaf world, Deaf society. Takes over, control everything.
eyeth and earth-
eugenic- audism, oralism abuse, brutal discipline. You can use fish hook, wall hook that you hang picture, coat hook, etc.
fan– resistance- speech practice, repetitive, speech therapy, sense of air coming from mouth.
Harlequin/Jester/clown– resistance-joker, pathetic liar, abuser.
key– represents the unlocking of something and/or the answer to something (in De’VIA the key usually represents natural sign language
keyhole– represents the need to unlock and/or to gain access to something (in De’VIA the keyhole usually represents the gateway to ASL or being shut out / locked out of things)
moloch– David Call and KC used Moloch. Destroyer of Deaf children via Oralism (false god – children sacrificed via fire)
money bag– resistance- is for profit and greed.
mother of all deaf souls– affirmative- natural sign language, strength, purity, Deaf birthright, preservation of Deaf communities for generations to come. Mother of All Deaf Souls is a mythical fertile mother of all Deaf Souls. She is an entity that can come in different life forms such as Deaf Baobab Tree graphite/color pencil, Elder shaman in “First Kitchen Table Conversation” color pencil, Alice Cogswell in “Me Your Mother”, “Liberation”, and “Harmony in Silence” linocuts and so on. (David Call)
plague doctor– resistance- is a quack doctor selling false hope to desperate parents for profit.
plague doctor hat– resistance- same as quack doctor.
profit, resistance Profit motif refers to making money off of Deaf bodies. It refers to dollar sign $, so when you make art, it has to be resistance theme, meaning making money, they profit. Another example, for profiting could go to cultural appropriation. It is a political art.
Puzzle pieces, resistance Jigsaw puzzle refers to disempowerment, something is missing, and mystery.
sewing / stitches-
skull– resistance- is for eugenics.
speech therapy-resistance- Airplane, baseball, ice cream, apple, hotdog
stairway-liberation- life is a journey, sometimes we face difficulty because of expectation from the society, walk up to reach the goal or collapse on the stairway, a missing puzzle feeling “always looking” for a destination.
strings– resistance-tied down, audism, trapped, colonialism, Deaf person as a puppet.
Ventriloquist Puppet Mouth/Chin– idea came from Betty G Miller. Oralism, AVT, LSL.
De’VIA Motifs: Animals
Separation/Duality of Two Worlds
|Peacock||Affirmative||Spectrum’s mascotEyes on tail feathersBeauty|
|Caterpillar/Butterfly/Dragonfly||Affirmative||Evolution, Journey, Deafhood|
|Moth||Affirmative||Need for light|
|Bee||Affirmative||Deaf Community (i.e. Hives)|
|Monkey||Resistance||Audiology lab, CI mascot, primitive stage of evolution|
|Elephant||Resistance||A.G. Bell, Audism, Oralism|
Seize control of Deaf community
|Dog||Affirmative||Bonding, Family’s Pet|
|Dog||Resistance||Passive and Submissive
(2 dogs) conflict
|Horse||Resistance||Deaf Person Trapped
(Whip a Dead Horse idiom)
|Turtle||Affirmation||no ears/Unhearinghard shell|
|Hamster / guinea pig/mouse/rat||Resistance||experimentation subject|
|Affirmative||flight / freedom
|Forked Tongue (snake/serpent)||Resistance||False promises|