Pawel Kuczynski’s (n.d.) artwork titled “Alone” features several key elements that can be semiotically analysed to weave a cohesive narrative. The one word title: “Alone”, serves as a symbol and as a hint into the meaning of the artwork (Are words symbols?, 2017). Cambridge Dictionary (Alone, n.d.) defines “alone” as meaning “without other people”. Hence, it is safe to assert that the word is symbolically applied to describe the single icon of a human being in Kucyzski’s artwork as in a state of “being alone” and in the absence of others; The red cloak, shoes, and overall design is also iconic of the girl in the fairy tale: “Little Red Riding Hood” (Ashliman, 2018; Origjanska, 2018).
In the fairy tale, the girl entered the forest to look for her grandmother. Likewise, the solitary figure in the red cloak stands in stark contrast to the surrounding icons of wireless routers. We know they are routers so ubiquitous with wireless communication due to the devices each sporting a single antenna that projects blue curves of increasing lengths outwards from themselves. The curves when placed and repeated in this manner symbolises wireless connections and wireless communications between each device too (Shaw, 2020).
Yet, every router icon in the artwork can also be interpreted as being symbolic of trees that come together to form the forest like in the Little Red Riding Hood. The routers act as the base, while the blue curves symbolises the leaves that radiate upwards and outwards. Consider the darkened background that suggests shadows which are an index of a thick canopy. The foreground bathes the girl in light as the index of the sun. The girl holds a black object in her hand. Her pose is iconic of someone looking down at their mobile phone and exhibiting the “text neck” posture (Damasceno et al., 2018). Analysed holistically, the solitary icon of a girl amongst the symbols of wireless connectivity and forests could mean that she is alone, even as the internet with its vast human connectivity options are available.
Therefore, Kuczynski’s artwork could be a social commentary on how potentially lost and alone human beings can be when they are isolated from the physical presence of other human beings; This is especially so when the solitary icon of a human is depicted among icons of routers.
In a wall mural titled: “Child rickshaw pulling tourists”, Banksy (2015) depicts a young child pulling two seated tourists in a rickshaw; The key elements are the child and the tourists. The rickshaw and umbrella provides context. The tourists are visually depicted as being pudgier and heavy, as denoted by the skin folds under their necks and the bulging tummy from the man. Banksy may have denoted the tourists as prioritising their own wants and pleasures above the child who is pulling the rickshaw. This pleasure is connotatively evident in seeing the smiles on their faces as the man raises the mobile device in his hands. The juxtaposition is also crucial: The tourists occupy a higher visual position as compared to the child. This may suggest that the tourists are of a higher social status than the child. In taking the photo of themselves, the resulting image inevitably leaves out the child and further masks the social issues.
Next, Banksy only colourised the tourists in the artwork with everything else in greyscale. The colours can connote the tourist wealth, as colour photography was expensive then, and still does to some degree now (Touchette, 2017). The artist may also connote the normalisation of child labour prevalent in Asia, Africa, and Latin America by decolourisation (Naeem, 2011; Quattri & Walkins, 2016). Viewers who live in countries where child labour is practiced would also understand the denotation through direct observation and societal experience. However, the artwork neither denotes or connotes where the scene takes place. There is also no indication of whether the rickshaw is even moving. From this perspective, it would appear that Banksy could have depicted the child as merely propping the rickshaw for the tourists to pose and take their photos. The child also appears to be looking at and thereby making contact with the viewer, ultimately acknowledging their presence. This suggests an invitation for the viewer to engage a deeply rooted issue, connotated by the child hunched forward without moving.
Banksy may have intended to focus the viewer’s eyes solely on the tourists first, then the child. This is a statement on child labour as an issue that is overlooked and perpetuated by society. By looking at the artwork then at the child, the viewer participates in the artwork by acknowledging that they are helpless, and unable to reduce the weight of the issues as represented by the tourists. Ultimately, the viewer is unable to change the fate of the child.
Alone | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (n.d.). Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/alone
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Ashliman, D., L. (2018, April 8). Little Red Riding Hood. https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0333.html
Damasceno, G. M., Ferreira, A. S., Nogueira, L. A. C., Reis, F. J. J., Andrade, I. C. S., & Meziat-Filho, N. (2018). Text neck and neck pain in 18–21-year-old young adults. European Spine Journal, 27(6), 1249–1254. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00586-017-5444-5
Feed the world Banksy art mural printed wall mural. (n.d.). Wallart Direct. https://www.wallart-direct.co.uk/banksy-feed-the-world-wall-murals
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Origjanska, M. (2018, March 9). The dark original story of Little Red Riding Hood is illicit and decadent. The Vintage News. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/03/09/little-red-riding-hood-2-2/
Pawel Kuczynski. (n.d.). alone. Pictorem. https://www.pictorem.com/106021/alone.html
Quattri, M., & Watkins, K. (2016, December). Child labour and education – A survey of slum settlements in Dhaka (Bangladesh). World Development Perspectives, 13, 50–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wdp.2019.02.005
Shaw, K. (2020, June 11). What is Wi-Fi and why is it so important? Network World. https://www.networkworld.com/article/3560993/what-is-wi-fi-and-why-is-it-so-important.html
Touchette, A. (2017, June 8). A Quick History of Color Photography (for Photographers). Envato Tuts+. https://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/the-reception-of-color-photography-a-brief-history–cms-28333