October 28, 2013

Symbols in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans


I thought it would be interesting to document for everyone the fascinating symbols and tombs in Saint Louis Cemetery 1, New Orleans. What I saw there was really amazing, visually and historically.

The Grave of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Priestess


Marie Laveau lived from 1794 to 1181 in new Orleans. She was a very powerful figure, and led a following of tens of thousands. She and her family are buried in this family grave. A false rumor persists that by drawing three "x"s (XXX) on the side of her grave, she will grant you your wish.

Our tour guide said the only proper way to pray to her is to make a wish, and if she grants it, to return and leave a small offering. The "x"s are simply vandalism, and need to be continually removed.


Orleans Battalion of Artillery


This "society" tomb is noteworthy for a few reasons. It contains the bodies of a number of soldiers that fought against the British in 1815. The symbols on the tomb all have very specific meanings. Here is a closeup.
- the hourglass at the top: The impermanence of time
- the wreath: victory or immortality
- the cannon balls: their roles as artillerymen
- the upside down torches: the extinction of life

Perpetual Care


Perpetual Care markers are put on graves entrusted to the care fo the Catholic Church for upkeep and maintenance. Because of the costs involved, many of them are simply restored with concrete and latex paint. Restoration means making a new tomb in the same shape as the old one, but with modern materials. They don't work well in the humid environment and soon decay. Preservation, on the other hand, means taking care of the original, and fixing it with original materials and techniques.


Note the difference between the restored step tomb on the bottom left, and the original step tomb to the right.


Freemasons and Shriners


The marks of the Freemasons and the Shriners feature prominently here.


Many tomb covers are made of marble, which is extremely susceptible to the hot, humid climate, and soon warps and crumbles. Note the curved marble piece on the second one from the left.



Resting Place of Homer Plessy


In 1892, Homer Plessy and a Citizens Committee challenged the racist "Separate but Equal" doctrine. It was part of a highly coordinated attempt to have state-sponsored segregation ruled unconstitutional. Although the case reached the US Supreme Court, they did not succeed. It was not until 1954, in the Brown v. Board of Education that the law was struck down.

Other Tombs




October 12, 2013

WPA Posters

See America Welcome To Montana

Milk - for Warmth Energy Food

Result: Three killed by speeding car

Must we always have this? Why not housing?

Live here at low rent

Keep your fire escapes clear

Indian Art of the United States

Up where winter calls to play

These striking silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut Work Projects Administration (WPA) posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs; cultural programs including art exhibitions, theatrical, and musical performances; travel and tourism; educational programs; and community activities in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. The posters were made possible by one of the first U.S. Government programs to support the arts and were added to the Library's holdings in the 1940s.

September 30, 2013


When I was in 13, in 8th grade, I was painfully shy. Being in a new school, with foreigners, was almost more than I could deal with. Foreigners, you say? Yeah. A Nigerian kid in America sees his classmates as foreigners, no matter how "perfect" his accent is.

I hardly talked to anyone. The jokes were foreign. The bee bus and butt head? Was that a TV show? The whole year was cringeworthy to think about now, but back then, it was excruciating. I took the bus home every day and plopped myself in from of the TV, sitting there for hours. There's no end to the things you learn about a society by watching the TV they make.

The basketball coach tried to get me out of my shell. The 8th grade boys were having a basketball shoot out, and I was to participate, he said. It was one of those winner gets a t-shirt deals. I said no. Not only did I suck at basketball, but the girls would be watching, and I didn't want to humiliate myself.

The coach told me that if I kept running away, I would never be able to stand up to anything, and that win or lose, I owed it to myself to try. I got arm-twisted into playing.

I was the last to get the basketball that day. I took as many shots as I could in a minute, bricking most of them really badly, air balling a few, and getting a grand total of 3 points, all of them off panicked free throws. I could hear my classmates behind the 3-point line, quietly laughing at me. That's not a criticism. I quietly laughed at people all the time, and I still do.

It may be true that forcing me onto the court put a bit of steel in my spine. My self-esteem was pretty well destroyed after that, though, and it took a while to build back up. I'm still not sure what coach thought would happen. Being extroverted doesn't come easy to everyone. When we force introvert kids to 'interact' with people, it doesn't always make them into social butterflies, and can often be anguishing. Remember that the next time you tell someone that success is mostly just showing up.

July 14, 2013

Space Vikings, by Mel Grant

Space Vikings

I just found this painting, called Space Vikings, while wandering around on the internet. It's by Melvyn Grant, a British sci-fi and fantasy artist. Something about the spacesuits caught my eye. So many of the suits we see on TV and in the movies are bland uniforms, but these look very personalized, almost like regular clothes. I imagine that in the deep future, spacesuits will have little resemblance to what we know today, and the painting is striking for that reason.

via Sci-Fi-O-Rama

June 9, 2013

On Matsumi Kanemitsu

I bought a book of Matsumi Kanemitsu lithographs years ago, in college. It was a retrospective of his prints from 1960-1990. Im not sure what it was about his work that I found fascinating- perhaps the way he used litho washes, or the sly humor in the illustrations. In any case, I periodically look at the book again for inspiration. Here is a video on his life and work that you may enjoy.

(Image courtesty of Art Is America)

May 13, 2013

Converting Our Stories Into Multi-Screen Experiences

if you have a few minutes, check out the article I wrote on Smashing Magazine about multi-screen storytelling. I've spoken about this topic before, at Webvisions and NYUXPA, so I'm really glad the topic is being seen by a wider audience.

May 13, 2013

Repositioning My Portfolio

The Portfolio As Explanation

There's no shortage of blog posts telling you how to make a killer portfolio. This isn't one of them. It's simply my personal experience showing my work online, and what I've learned while designing my portfolio. If there are any lessons here, they are intensely personal, and may not apply to you.

Still curious, dear reader? Then carry on.

I've always attached undue weight to my personal site. If I could just crop those images the right way, or just write that CSS a bit more cleverly, it would magically bring a wave of interest in my work. Since I don't have my own (internet) TV show, it obviously didn't work. What I've realized, slowly, is what my online portfolio is actually for. To prove (to myself) that I'm not a faker.

I joined the Art Directors Club about a year ago, on a whim. They seemed to have a few interesting events happening, and being new in New York, I figured it was an good way to meet people.

The ADC Executive Director Ignacio Oreamuno started having office hours, and invited members to come in and talk, have a cup of coffee, and get portfolio advice. I jumped at the chance, mostly because I needed some impartial outside advice about my work. He asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said an astronaut, but I was only half joking. So was he.

Pulling out my iPad and showing him a bit of my portfolio, we talked generally about the work, about technology, and digital art direction. The advice I got was straightforward. “You have a bit of everything in here. Anyone who says they can do it all is a liar.” he said. “You need to focus on one area, and get fucking awesome at it.” Being all over the place, trying to prove I'm capable, diluted my portfolio.

Ignacio suggested I look for radical digital ideas that organizations like MIT's Media Lab were working on, and design conceptual work around those. He said the in order to craft mind-blowing digital experiences, I needed to look years in the future, and not at today. Too much of what I produce seemed focused on chasing short-term successes.

The typography, color choices, interaction patterns in my work need to have real purpose, and my portfolio should showcase that. Not in that esoteric Art World way, but in the pragmatic, rule-based way that design calls for. Talking about my work more critically, more forcefully, is a skill I have yet to master. A small realization that came from an impartial observer, with no personal stake in me or my career.

Strangers can be your most honest critics.

May 11, 2013

The Nok- A Brief History

The Nok civilization appeared in central Nigeria around 1000 B.C. With no record of what these people actually called themselves, their name comes from the village of Nok, near the archaeological site. The Nok culture was highly advanced, and lived in an area spanning more than 80,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles).

Read more

©Senongo Akpem. All Rights Reserved.