A thesis presented by Qiwen Ju, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design in the Department of Graphic Design of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Opening Apertures
Relevant Terms
Multiple Perspectives
︎︎︎ Stereotype
︎︎︎ Stop Asian Hate Poster
︎︎︎ On This Day
Interview with Yiyang Hei
Shifting Perspective
︎︎︎ Maze
︎︎︎ Alienation
︎︎︎ Moiré Typeface
Studying Perspective
︎︎︎ Reframing Story
My Perspective
︎︎︎ Escape From Reality
︎︎︎ El Lissitzky And Werner Jeker
︎︎︎ The Grid
︎︎︎ If You Could See What I Hear



From the project introduction by James Goggin: Since the tragic and unnecessary police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year (not to mention Breonna Taylor and countless other Black lives going back more than 400 years), over 100 Confederate monuments, memorials, and statues have been removed or scheduled for removal in the United States. More statues commemorating historical villains and tyrants have been felled around the world, in places like Bristol (United Kingdom) and Antwerp (Belgium).

This reappraisal of public monuments is obviously just one small part of a much wider necessary and long overdue reckoning with systemic racism nationally and internationally. But as a particularly visible contem-porary flashpoint and with relevance to the graphic designer’s position as a mediator of information and documentation, I hope that the status of public space and memorial is worthy of analysis, as a lens through which we might explore the responsibility we have as a discipline, and as citizens, to document lives and memories, and to counter prevailing histories and challenge power structures.

Artist, teacher, editor, and curator Ken Lum, co-founder of Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based independent public art and history studio, describes monuments as “mnemonic devices.” Their traditional function, he elaborates, “has been to activate or even sustain a certain narrative of memory which people of influence have deemed worthy or important to maintain.” As Los Angeles Times journalist and columnist Carolina A. Miranda confirms, “many monuments are built as incarnations of power.”

What kinds of humble, relational, and practical roles might graphic designers play in corrective and revisionist approaches to traditional memorials, the communication of more personal and more inclusive histories and memories, and the cooperation between participants (architects, urban planners, community groups) in public urban (and rural) spaces? This project invites you to engage in research, personal experience, interdisciplinary dialogue, collaborative practice, and time and place, to formulate speculative site-specific physical and/or virtual proposals for new forms of collective narrative and commemoration.

Before we decided on a theme for the project, James led us on a field trip throughout Providence to view a range of sculptural monuments and manifestos, paintings, and public art. While I would generally see them as urban ornamentation, this opportunity gave me a deeper understanding of each monument’s history and helped me realize that monuments could exist in many different ways. Photo credit: Etienne Adams.
After the one-day tour and exploration of the monuments in Providence, I tried searching for inspirations based on my own experience. As far as I can remember, most of the monuments in China memorialize war history, with a few exceptions commemorating individual achievements. These monuments are seen as symbols of greatness; they represent the history of China’s development and are a presence that cannot be questioned. But there is a history we cannot see, a “hidden” history that has the right to be remembered.

Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minju 7 is renowned for his smiling sculpture created from his oil painting series. From the big smile and naked body, the audience encounters a gesture of extreme political and social satire, getting little pleasure from it. For me, his works are not just art for the public; they are also monuments to remember and reflect on those bleak days — the Cultural Revolution. 8

Era of Hero No. 1, 2005. Photo credit: CHRISTIE’S.
Based on Yue Minjun’s works, I chose Chinese internet firewalls to be my focus. These firewalls can trigger quite concrete pictures each time we discuss them, although they are relatively abstract objects. The departure of Google from mainland China in 2010 indicated the end of the ten-year internet conflict between the CCP and Google. Chinese internet companies started to rise the market from then on, and subsequently the firewall was established. After that, we needed to get accustomed to being supervised and controlled in the name of user security and through means such as bans on sensitive words or political opinions. But the firewall was only an abstract concept to me as a kid since it had nothing to do with my life until I came out from within it. As I started to explore the bigger world, I realized there was only one voice allowed in the society I used to live in — one that might affect or even suppress different voices. Luckily, I grew up in a family that encouraged freedom and knowledge and taught me to embrace difference, which allowed me to realize the difference between inside and outside the wall. Several years later, as the firewall in China developed quickly, the stricter control made more vocabularies sensitive, more truth was hidden, public opinion was controlled, and overwhelming patriotic declarations attracted more young followers. The illegality of VPNs last year triggered me into real reflection.

Thus, I decided to create an ironic monument/public art piece to reflect the internet situation in China. Unlike an ordinary maze, the one I created is made up of the word “internet.” The audience can interact with the maze by, for example, standing on the stairs to see the scenery outside of the wall or touching the surface to leave a trace of themselves. Each element of the design is a metaphor that the audience needs to contextualize to understand the meaning behind the maze.

Top: TIME Photo-Illustration; Photo credit: Getty Images.

Two views of a maze with no exit.
Metaphor: We live on the Internet, we know how to enter, but we cannot leave.

Two views of a maze with no exit.
Metaphor: We live on the Internet, we know how to enter, but we cannot leave.

This is a maze but also a choice.
Metaphor: We are inside the firewall, but whether you choose to leave, stay, or fight is your own choice.

There are stairs in the maze, through which the audience can climb to the top of the maze.
Metaphor: Stairs are like tools, VPN, helping you see the outside world.

A naked person, without gender, stands above the maze.
Metaphor: We exist on the Internet. Just like being naked, anyone can monitor us.

Some books are stacked in the center of the maze.
Metaphor: Knowledge helps you recognize reality and broaden your horizons.

You can touch the metal surface and leave your trace on the wall.
Metaphor: You recognize yourself on the Internet and leave traces of your past.

People outside the maze can see the inside of the maze through the stairs outside.
Metaphor: The outside world can also see the people inside the firewall.

7) In 2004, my parents and I came to visit the 798 Beijing Art Park. I still remember the first time I saw Yue Minjun’s paintings and sculptures. The exaggerated smiles gave me a physiological revulsion. For an elementary school student, his works left a very deep impression on me.
8)Here are exerpts from an interview with The New York Times (2007): In China there’s a long history of the smile,” Mr. Yue said. “There is the Maitreya Buddha who can tell the future and whose facial expression is a laugh. Normally there’san inscription saying that you should be optimistic and laugh in the face of reality.” There were also paintings during the Cultural Revolution period, those Soviet-style post-ers showing happy people laughing,” he continued. “But what’s interesting is that normally what you see in those posters is the opposite of reality.”