Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me

It is a lovely children’s rhyme but does it speak the truth? To explore the human tendency to categorize and label those around us, we designed t-shirts imprinted with the question: “What would others call me behind my back?” Students invited strangers on the streets of Berlin to express their feelings by inking their opinions on the back of their shirts. This initiative was meant to give physicality to the way we label each other. The writers of these opinions pressed their words onto the back of the t-shirt wearer, and in turn, those students felt these labels and assumptions being forced upon their backs.

As many students realized, this was not an easy endeavor. Inviting others to openly judge and visibly label them, was an exercise in risk, potential danger, and emotional turmoil. Todd Nelson, the first t-shirt wearer, was asked afterward, “Would you do it again?”

His answer was an emphatic No.

This initiative provides insight into the true nature of words. They can push us into action. We hope these t-shirts promote you to act: Carefully consider the words you use as they hold great power to heal or to wound, an idea in contrast to the nursery rhyme. 

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  • events

    2010 symposium
    Universität der Künste
    Berlin, Germany
    2010 exhibit
    designtransfer gallery
    Berlin, Germany

  • Berlin symposium participants

  • Bilkent University

    Ankara, Turkey
    Güclü Aydogdu
    Sera Cakiroglu
    Basak Gokce

  • Northeastern University

    Boston MA, USA
    Christie O’Laughlin
    Kate Terrado
    Ann McDonald, faculty

  • Shandong University of Art & Design

    Ji’nan, Shandong Province, P.R. China
    Kang Kai
    Sun Lu
    Li Lingjun
    Xu Yichen
    Ma Wen
    Liu Mengdie
    Yang Shuai
    Li Yang
    Liu Xinkun
    Zhang Xiao
    Shi Zengquan, dean
    Hou Liping, faculty
    Wang Xiaofeng, faculty
    Zhang Xiaojuan, faculty

  • Universität der Künste

    Berlin, Germany
    Anna Cairns
    James Ellison
    Karolina Hałatek
    Catherine Kirk
    Rotem Peleg
    Philipp Tögel
    Xingzheng Jin
    Thomas Zimmermann
    Ulrich Schwarz, faculty
    Charlotte Driessen, faculty

  • University of Maryland

    College Park, Maryland USA
    Brittany Atkinson
    Katie Friedgen
    Shai Goller
    Talia Hillman
    Christie Liberatore
    Jaimie Mertz
    Todd Nelson
    Joanna Shieh
    Anna Tulchinskaya
    Jessy Weiss
    Lilian Yu
    Audra Buck-Coleman, faculty

  • Weber State University

    Ogden, Utah USA
    Crissy Barney
    Sam DeMastrie
    Jennifer Hadley
    Britni Howe
    Chanel Licheld
    Jeff Madsen
    Mark Biddle, faculty

  • sponsors

    Stick + Stones rec­og­nizes the gen­er­ous sup­port of the following organizations and individuals:
    Bilkent University
    Nancy H. Clarvit
    DAAD German Academic Exchange Service
    Northeastern University Undergraduate Research Fund
    Shandong University of Art and Design
    Universität der Kunste Berlin
    University of Maryland College of Arts & Humanities
    University of Maryland Center for Teaching & Excellence
    Weber State University College of Arts and Humanities

  • additional contributors

    cultural workshop leader
    Sophia Stepf
    guest lecturers
    Gökçen Demiragli
    Kreuzberg Museum
    Vladimir Llovet Casademont
    Serge Rompza
    NODE Berlin Oslo
    Florian Hardwig
    manuscribe research
    Peter Winkles
    Next Interkulturelle Projekte
    Haus der Kulturen der Welt
    Yang Liu
    Yang Liu Design
    administrative assistance
    Wilfried Beuster, UdK accountant
    Matthias Maercks
    exhibit execution assistance
    Maria Fountoukis
    Lisette Berndt
    Lena Marbacher
    Ilka Schaumberg
    UdK Typography class
    Teresa Besser
    Melanie Bossert
    Eugen Bräunig
    Vinzent Britz
    Lisa Bukall
    Sujin Choi
    Benjamin Courtault
    Marius Förster
    Irina Gertmann
    Stefan Höderath
    Jens Ludewig
    Julia Lingertat
    Benjamin Maus
    Markus Mrugalla
    Naomi Mulla
    Donnie O’Sullivan
    Gulnara Petzold
    Robert Preusse
    Nina Ritter
    Soo-Im Jung
    Leon Schmid
    Timo Schmitt
    Carla Streckwall
    Stefan Stubbe
    Lena Teuber
    Philipp Tögel
    Wanja Toselli
    Rafael B. Varona
    Julia Volkmar
    dominik wagner
    Felix Worseck
    Simone van Eldik, faculty
    Vera Garben
    Branka Hanisch
    Philipp Hoffmann
    Antonia Aravena Llanca
    Marie-France Ryder