Cross Cultural Pictograms

  • 1992
  • Color offset lithograph paper construction
  • Overall: 21½ x 25¼ x 11/a inches (54.6 x 64.1 x 2.9 cm)
  • 2009-61-38
About the Print

To create this work, Mei-ling Hom printed nine pictograms, or symbols, on paper, which she then cut and folded into a shallow 3-D construction. The symbols appear to be wrapped in blue fiber and displayed in a “gallery” of rectangles and squares. An orange paper background adds energy, and symmetry brings balance to the work.

Pictograms are a form of picture writing. Early cave drawings, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Chinese calligraphy are based on picture symbols. In this work, Hom included invented symbols and the Chinese char­acter for “center” (middle row, left), also used for the word “China” jung guo or “center country”). She created the symbols to express her experience in American schools, where she had little opportunity to explore her heritage. “My American education taught me Latin, French, and Spanish before I sought out Chinese-language classes in college.” These images, wrapped with strands of various textures, reflect her quest to weave the threads of her heritage with her own unique persona.

“I hope to resolve the conflict of a hyphenated cultural identity and to gain a deeper understanding that may give my American artmaking a resonance of my Chinese heritage.”

-Mei-Ling Hom

Let's Look
  • How would you describe the shapes in this print? How are they arranged?
  • What meanings would you give the shapes? Why do you think Hom made them look as if they are wrapped with hair or fiber?
  • Hom often reflects on her experience as a Chinese American in her art. The pictogram for "center" is one of the characters used for the word "China" (jung guo). Why might the artist place this word off to the side? How could it relate to her experience growing up as a Chinese American?

Mei-Ling Hom

American
Born New Haven, 1951
About the Artist

Primarily a sculptor, Mei-ling Hom is recognized for her versatile approach to making art. She was formerly based in Philadelphia, where she taught at Community College of Philadelphia. Hom’s installations and community-arts collaborations examine the complexities of her life as a woman, an artist, and an American of Chinese descent. Hom’s China Wedge (1994), a forty-foot-long public sculpture made of 22,000 white porcelain cups, bowls, and spoons, is installed in the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

Curriculum Connections

Suggested Topics for Art Projects, Group Discussion, and Independent Writing

Art

Identity/Pictorial Design

People's names and homes are part of their identity. Design a pictorial drawing featuring your initials and some part of your home address, adding colors that have significance for you. Stress the design elements.

Abstract Symbols

Create a gallery of six personal abstract symbols that express who you are. Consider making the gallery in 3-D. Use the color, shape, balance, and texture sym­bolically as Mei-ling Hom did but in your own terms. For more inspiration, look at the artwork of Xu Bing, who was born in China in 1955.

Language Arts

What Would You Ask?

What questions would you ask Hom if you could talk with her about her work and her life? What do you want to know and why? Do research to prepare relevant questions.

In Your Opinion

"I hope to resolve the conflict of a hyphenated cultural identity and to gain a deeper understanding that may give my American artmaking a resonance of my Chinese heritage."
Consider Hom's quote about her artwork. In your opinion, does Cross Cultural Pictograms reflect the spirit of her words? How? If not, why not?

Social Studies

Standardized Symbols

Research the development of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the history of modern-day communication through pictograms. ISO symbols are everywhere-at airports, in museums, at the Olympics. Look up the officially accepted set of ISO symbols, and then create a new pictogram for your school or home that clearly communicates a helpful idea without words.

Compare and contrast ISO's symbols and Hom's pictograms. Are they intended to serve the same purpose? Track your findings on a Venn diagram.