Valerie Rose says sign language is essential through her ‘Sign Sign Mural Project’
Valerie Rose’s lifelong love letter to her community continues its mission of spreading awareness of Deaf culture through her public art.
Her latest work, the "Sign Sign Mural Project," is currently displayed on Park Avenue, hoping to spread the message that Deaf culture is important and to inspire the community to learn American Sign Language (ASL).
"I use my art to bring awareness to something that I care about, which in this case, for me, is Deaf culture and American Sign Language," Rose said.
The artist and activist is a half-deaf Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), and ASL is her first language.
Rose’s latest project is fiscally sponsored by CascadiaNow!, and individual donations from the Chico community.
"With this specific piece on Park Avenue, there are four panels on this building that can be visible from a busy street," Rose explains. "I wanted to bring attention to a direct message. I wanted to say something very clearly."
Although the four panels of the artwork make up one cohesive piece, Rose feels each panel caters to a different audience, strengthening new awareness levels.
In the first panel, titled “Sign language is as necessary as it is beautiful,” the artist targets those who have never explored that concept.
"I think that a lot of people can agree that it is visually beautiful, and it's an exciting language, and a lot of hearing people will tell me that they wish they knew it, and 'we idolize it, and we appreciate the way that it looks,'" Rose explains. "But if we ask people if they think it's necessary, I don't know if the answer would be the same.”
She said those generally unaware or lacking knowledge of the Deaf community might question its value due to lack of exposure.
"However, when we stop and question, is spoken language necessary? I think that they would say yes," Rose said. "So why are those two things different? When we compare spoken and sign language? They should be equal, but they are not. They're not treated equally."
For Rose, the lack of awareness can often feel disrespectful, as ASL is a vital tool for those who rely on it.
The second panel, titled "THAT! THAT! THAT!," is a tribute to the Deaf community. It is a Deaf culture term and sign that highlights its importance.
"If we say 'that, that, that' we're emphasizing like a yes! It's like a huge yes, it means right on exactly," Rose said. "So if deaf people were looking at this mural and they read ‘sign language is as necessary as it is beautiful,’ it's a huge like ‘that, that, that, of course!’"
The third panel is a display of the ASL alphabet. Those who want to dive into ASL can study the mural for reference.
“I think that it's really great to have public art that is interactive,” Rose said. “So if you can interact with the piece and learn something, while you're standing in front of it, that's wonderful.”
Rose hopes those who walk by it will study the alphabet for a minute.
“I have already seen people already doing that,” Rose said. “I saw a grandmother and her grandkids standing in front of it, and they were going over each letter, and that made it all worth it for me.”
The final panel is a collaboration with the artist Dylan Tellesen. It’s a portrait of artist Judith Scott. She was born with Down syndrome and was largely deaf and mute until she died in 2005.
Scott spent 35 years institutionalized in her home state of Ohio.
“They abused her and did not give her access to anything,” Rose said. “They deemed her incapable of learning, and they still didn't know that she was deaf.”
After Scott’s twin sister Joyce regained custody of her, they moved to San Francisco, where Scott’s life began to take a creative turn toward art.
"I wonder what her life would have been like if we had given her language,” Rose said. “She died without a language.”
A dedication for the “Sign Sign Mural Project” took place on Sept. 23, during National Deaf Awareness Month. But for Rose, raising awareness about Deaf culture and ASL is a daily occurrence and a big part of her life as an activist.
"I think that it can change a lot of lives," Rose said. "There are people in Butte County who might need access to this language, and I think that if we raise awareness about Deaf culture, and the beauty of it, or even just the fact that there is Deaf culture, if you have a kid who's born deaf, or if you are going deaf yourself, and you feel alone, to know that there's a community out there."