Author: Grace Baldwin

Building the Tower of Babel

Khalid Albai is a truly remarkable character. His artworks is nothing short of inspiring, and his global reach is fascinating. His work and character and inherently politically-driven and smart. Albai’s work is motivating to anyone considering graphic art and exemplifies the power of communication that exists beyond words. 

Albai’s work became famous through the internet. He has had pieces go viral several times, enough that it isn’t special to him anymore and is more of an annoyance in some ways. His Facebook page has (x) number of followers, his Twitter (x), and his Instagram (x). Needless to say, Khaled is extremely popular online and has worked extremely hard to get to this point of internet fame. 

What I found interesting about Khaled’s lecture and his work in general is his use of language and how he communicates his ideas. In full disclosure, I am somewhat of a linguistics nerd. I have always found language interesting as a form of communication and was intrigued by Khaled’s deliberate attempts to use as few words as possible in his work. Historically, humans have depicted their lives through images and symbols rather than letters. The earliest information we can gather about humans come from cave paintings across the world. They include raw depictions of daily lives of hunters and gatherers chasing their prey, representations of family structures, and ancient religious symbology. The most famous pictographic history is probably the Egyptian hieroglyphs that are so throughly studied in the Western world as a result of colonialism. When British explorers found tombs with walls covered in coded symbols, the temptation of academic pursuit was too much to resist. The idea of using symbols to represent larger ideas is a tradition that continues to today, we just have to look to modern Chinese where symbols represent entire words rather than sounds as they do in the Latin alphabet.

However, Khaled’s use of language is also important to note. As he stated during the lecture, “we speak your language but you don’t speak ours”. In some ways, these images are really designed for the Western viewer to gain some insight into the world that they have no access to. English, an imperialist language, is widely spoken around the world, meaning that very few native speakers must learn another language simply out of necessity. 

There is something that resonates on a human level about pictographic art and communication; it can be understood by a wider group, whether the audience is illiterate or just cosmopolitan. As our world has grown more interconnected and our societies have become more reliant on those different from our own, maybe graphic imagery is the solution to the problems created in the biblical story of the tower of Babel. Graphic imagery with as few words as possible can be a connector for people around the world. Work like Khaled’s demands a reaction from anyone who sees it, regardless of where they are positioned in the world. 

The Revolution of Teleconnections

When I learned that we were going to have the opportunity to meet with Gillen D’arcy Wood, I was extremely excited. Throughout my life, volcanos have always fascinated me; growing up, my favorite book was The 21 Balloons, a novel about a man who unexpectedly lands on the island of Krakatoa a mere four days before it exploded. Because of the book, Krakatoa had always fascinated me and I was excited to learn more about Tambora because the global implications that the event had. However, after leaving Wood’s lecture, both in class and during the nighttime seminar, I was surprised that what I had learned about revolutions that week was not about a volcano at all, but rather about the revolutionary way of thinking Wood calls “teleconnections”.

As a senior, I have become nervous about the world that I will be entering in a few short months. I have no formal training in any sort of business expertise, very few hard skills, and very little applicable experience. I also have no idea what I want to do, exactly. In the  past, I have come to question my choice in education; Colby, while a wonderful place, lacks practical classes and majors like “Introductory Seminar in Real Estate” (which my brother is taking at Lehigh) and “Supply Chain Management” (which a friend majored in at CU Boulder). To be honest, I don’t even know what the first class would encapsulate or what that second major fully is, but they sound impressive and filled with useful knowledge to build a career off of.

However, Wood’s ideas of “teleconnections” a word that he eloquently uses for what I would describe as “seeing the larger picture”, struck me. For Wood, the teleconnections of Tambora related to migration patterns, ecological impacts, art, and political changes. Traditionally, these events have been analyzed independently of one another, but can all be traced back to the eruption of one volcano in 1815. Throughout both our STS class and the night lecture, he stressed that without looking at these historical events through a broader lens and understanding the different causes and effects of each event, we were failing to build a complete history of the period and thus failing to see how it could affect the future. The revolutionary concept that I learned from this lecture is that to be truly revolutionary, you cannot allow yourself to be pigeonholed to a specific frame of mind.

The idea of teleconnections reassured me. While I might not have the exact knowledge needed to go out and start a property rental business with a major supply chain that needs to be managed tomorrow, I do have the tools to go out and learn how to do that quickly. In the 21st century, a liberal arts education, which is inherently scattered and broad, might be the most revolutionary type because it forces you to learn how to think rather than what to think. So while I learned a little bit about volcanos from Wood, I learned a lot more about life.

The Single Story of Science

This summer, I had the honor of watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk titled “The Danger of a Single Story.” A powerful Nigerian author, Adichie cautions and explains how damaging a single narrative of any story is to society and relates back to her own childhood experiences to demonstrate her point. Adichie’s world as a child was filled with stories about young British boys and girls, and she grew to understand the British experience through reading the literature that was widely available to her as a child. Despite never seeing snow in her life and living in Western Africa, Adichie wanted to experience it the way the young British characters of the novels and children’s stories did.  From a young age, she had many stories about British life, but because of a lack of Nigerian (or even African) literature, British children would never have the same possibility. The British children would grow up with a singular story of what “Africa” was like; a story that completely disregarded the complexities and riches of the continent. To the British children, the daily happenings of Adichie’s life and therefore her human worth were lost in this larger story while at the same time she was discovering British weather patterns and foods.

When I had the opportunity to listen to Professor Cohen discuss the Scientific Revolution and how it wasn’t truly revolutionary, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this Ted Talk because of the lack of diverse stories and thoughts in the history of science and philosophy. Cohen’s lecture was fascinating and enlightening, and there were two things that particularly struck me and that sat with me after the lecture: the change in the concept of what is “scientific” and his reflection that the Scientific Revolution was dominated by pale males.

Science as we know it has not always been very “scientific”. The Ancients considered philosophy and other abstractions as science in a way that contemporary views fail to encapsulate and understand. The Scientific Revolution helped form science into the empirical, methodical, quantitative art that it is today, but it created a modern conception of the term that has since made it impossible to thoroughly understand the science of the past. The definition of “science” has always been a “moving target” in the words of Cohen, and as definitions have changed and been altered by the ruling classes, the original intent of the “science” of philosophy and the stars has disappeared and been appropriated by white men.

In reflecting on this idea of the definition of science being created by those in power, I wonder how different our world would be if women and people of color in the past would have had the chance to be a part of the discourse. If women and people of color had had the chance to interpret old ideologies and concepts and apply it to the world around them, would things be different? What would our technological landscape look like today if the vast majority of the brains of the world had not been shut out of the process?

The dominant discourse of science is a single story: that of wealthy white men with the luxury of time to devote to study. The past has ignored and therefore erased the narratives of the majority of the population that was closed off and told that they were not good enough for the process. And while the Scientific Revolution certainly created new technologies and accelerated the human race forward, it failed to dramatically alter social and political life for those who didn’t hold the power. It was revolutionary technology but failed to be revolutionary thought.