Raafia Jessa
Wanderer. Nomad. Graphic Designer.

Mother Tongue

“The language we use forms an important part of our sense of who we are - of our identity.”
- John Edwards

Mother Tongue

“Language is a universal and abstract system of sounds and symbols. Yet, the social, political and cultural contexts in which a language is spoken greatly affects its development and usages. In ever increasingly globalized societies, our sociolinguistic identity is not often singular.”

In response to an open call sent out by Varley Art Gallery; my fictitious alphabet, /ˈlo.kwiː/ was accepted as one of the entries to be shown in a group exhibition from May 13, 2017 - September 4, 2017.

While meeting with the curator to discuss the presentation of my project, the curator suggested that in addition to being featured in the exhibition, I had create the identity around the theme of Mother Tongue as well as help with the layout of the exhibition.


“The language we speak at home, or learned as a child – our mother tongue – may not be the same one used in our everyday lives. Mother Tongue invites us to consider the complex relationships that exist between language and identity; how it defines who we are and how it can inform visual artistic practice.”

Using the exhibition statement as inspiration, the identity of the show features hand lettering that has a child-like feel. The lettering highlights the vulnerability and personal aspect included in the works on display; all the artist’s come from varying geographic backgrounds and much of the work refers to the feeling of displacement and generational disconnect.

Language is a big way is which an environment is understood, internal confusion is caused if both language and familiar environments are taken away.

The wayfinding for the exhibition was based around a form of communication called Bliss Words. “Bliss is a graphical language that has existed in Sweden since the 1970s. Bliss is a language of logical structure and the foundation is a set of graphical elements that combine to form a Bliss word…There are currently about 6000 Bliss words. The Bliss language design allows creating new words according to well defined rules for words or concepts that are not yet available.” Bliss Words provided a link to connect the ideas of lost communication coupled with trying to find a different way to listen and learn.

We also decided to use each individuals artists’ “Mother Tongue”; How does one language interact with others? What is lost is translation? The exhibition included work by: Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Jihee Min, Yvonne Singer, Shellie Zhang, Alize Zorlutuna and myself.

Mother Tongue was short-listed for the Ontario Association of Art Galleries Exhibition of the Year Award, 2018