The Art of Backwards ↰↱ Forwards

‘Love cured’ from Proof Reading, London (2007) — Verina Gfader and Colm Lally

Many cultures around the world have a ‘clown’ tradition in which a person acts in a way that is contrary to what is normally expected. For example, among the indigenous people of North America the Heyókȟa was a sacred clown that was known to do things backwards-forwards or upside-down — riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language.

The famous Heyókȟa known as Straighten-Outer was always running around with a hammer trying to flatten round and curvy things (soup bowls, eggs, wagon wheels, etc.), thus making them straight. — John Fire Lame Deer

The role of the Heyókȟa character reminds me in ways of the role of the designer. Not to suggest that designers are clowns! But like the Heyókȟa, the designer is prone to asking difficult questions, and saying things people don’t always want to hear. In their different ways, the Heyókȟa and the designer provoke others to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things form new perspectives.

The power of the Heyókȟa’s satire is in its challenge to taboos, rules, regulations, norms, and boundaries. Paradoxically, it is by violating these norms and taboos that the Heyókȟa helps to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behavior. Both the Heyókȟa and the designer have the courage to ask ‘Why?’, with the aim of creating deeper awareness.