MOTIFS are culturally relevant symbols (like hands and eyes) used by Deaf artists to ommunicate overall themes in their artwork.
As part of the De’VIA curriculum, we have a growing list of MOTIFS, which are symbols commonly found in works about the Deaf experience. 
ARTivism painting by Nancy Rourke. Includes 28 motifs used during the Feb 28 Days 2015 challenge in De’VIA Central

This list will be updated from time to time as new motifs are discovered and/or emerge.

-In this section, we have ASL videos for some of the motifs as a teaching tool.

-In addition, we have a special category of ANIMAL MOTIFS used in various works and their explanations.

-Most examples of De’VIA artworks containing specific motifs are found in the De’VIA [Feb. 2015 or Feb. 2016] Challenge listings at

Treasure Box painting by Nancy Rourke includes the 29 motifs used during the Feb 2016 Challenge

Feel free to leave comments about new motifs and/or ask questions.

Links to De’VIA artworks featuring motifs are welcome.

Listing of OTHER De’VIA motifs to explore:

arrow– resistance- attacking, harming, trying to kill or stop or destroy.

band aid

burning pianosThe Night it Rained Flaming Pianos by David Call.  Motif created following Nyle and Peta’s dance to  “The Sound of Silence” on the night of May 23, 2016 on Dancing with the Stars reality tv show.



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.




hearing aids-

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.

musical instruments-

plague doctor– resistance- is a quack doctor selling false hope to desperate parents for profit.

plague doctor hat– resistance- same as quack doctor





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.



two worlds-

Ventriloquist Puppet Mouth/Chin– idea came from Betty G Miller. Oralism, AVT, LSL.





Deaf View/Image Art for schools

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