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