Celebrating the Deaf community on International Day of Sign Languages
In recognition of the Deaf community on September 23rd, the International Day of Sign Languages, we’ve commissioned Deaf artist Gonketa (he / him) for a special YouTube logo takeover. We also sat down with the creative to discuss the significance of this day and how he approached the makeover — which you can find on YouTube homepages around the world, from the US to Mexico to Japan and, of course, Gonketa’s home base in Australia.
There’s a day for everything and everyone. This is the day the world focuses its attention on sign languages.” Gonketa
“There’s a day for everything and everyone,” says Gonketa. “This is the day the world focuses its attention on sign languages.”
Like most people who are Deaf, Gonketa’s first language is sign language. In this case it’s Auslan, the majority sign language used by the Australian Deaf community. “For us,” signs Gonketa, “this day is international acknowledgement and recognition that there is a Deaf community which has a linguistic and cultural history.”
The International Day of Sign Languages is an opportunity to celebrate and “showcase something and to get excited,” signs Gonketa. “For that moment in time, the spotlight is on the Deaf community, so let’s take full advantage of it and stand up.”
Auslan is an integral part of Gonketa’s identity as his predominant means of communication and expression. “While I respect English and its place in society, Auslan is my first love,” he explains. “I don’t know how I’d communicate with you if I didn’t have Auslan. I cannot speak English.”
For the special YouTube logo in honor of International Day of Sign Languages, Gonketa chose to portray a range of national signs for different sign languages. After deciding on this idea, he called on a number of friends from the international Deaf community to advise him on the task.
“I have traveled quite extensively throughout the world,” Gonketa signs, “there are people I’ve met long the way so I asked them ‘How do you refer to your International Sign Language in your sign language?” Though it was a slow process, it afforded Gonketa an extra level of accuracy that’s important to get right.
“What I want people to gain or understand is that there is a plethora of sign languages all around the world. There’s not one universal sign language, there’s many, many sign languages. And hopefully, viewers will be inspired to learn their national sign language in whichever country they live in.”
By illustrating a dynamic range of hand gestures in his work, Gonketa hopes to raise awareness on sign language and “influence people to learn it so our society becomes more inclusive.” A common misconception of sign language is that it is universal. Though English is the dominant spoken language in the UK, Australia and America, their respective sign languages are all different. American sign language (ASL), for instance, has a one-handed alphabet while Australia and the UK have two-handed alphabets.
Though some sign languages have a similar syntax, each nation’s is distinct. So when Gonteka communicates with overseas friends, they use International Sign Language, an auxiliary language which fills the language divide.
Gonketa also hopes misconceptions of the Deaf community can be overcome with education and explanation. He’s familiar with both as he works as an Auslan teacher on top of being an artist. “Learning sign language is not easy … it takes years.” But with positive, gentle encouragement, he hopes an increasing number of people will understand just how unique sign language is and the rich culture that goes hand in hand with it.
“Inspiration is all around me,” signs Gonketa, “I see sign language everywhere.” Certain body language or non-verbal signs can spark creative ideas which he then documents as visual descriptions. “For example, I see hearing people on the phone gesturing with their free hand. Or I see objects and transform them into hands in my mind. I also want to draw individual words in sign.”
“When I’m drawing, I want people to see something in themselves. To think ‘okay, these hands over here represent this way of doing this’, I can do this too.” There have been instances when Gonketa has enjoyed seeing this play out before him. He’s seen hearing people look at his work, then imitate certain hand gestures. “I can see there’s some reflection taking place. To see that people are experimenting and getting to know their hands in a different way is very rewarding and shows that what I am doing is working.”
Sometimes a person doesn’t have to say anything but you know what this person wants just by their body language and what they’re conveying to you. That’s non-verbal body language. I refer to it as a superpower.” Gonketa
Hands can be the focus of communication, not just the ears and mouth. Deaf people are more in tune with body language, and Gonketa’s work shines a light on this. “Sometimes a person doesn’t have to say anything but you know what this person wants just by their body language and what they’re conveying to you. That’s non-verbal body language. I refer to it as a superpower,” Gonketa signs while laughing.
In the future, the artist hopes that there will be an explosion of people using sign language, not only used by Deaf people but fully embraced by the whole human race. “My hopes for the Deaf community are that sign language lasts forever, that we’ll use it forever.”