Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The Evolution of Color Symbolism
Our responses to color are inherited and learned. My experiences in Pakistan reconfirmed the reality of both universal color symbolism (timeless) and all the other kinds of meanings that evolve over time (religious, geographic, political, gender-based, etc.)
A perfect example is evolution of the yellow. If we turn back the clock to the Stone Age at any place on earth, yellow was and still is the color of flowers – typically flowers that bloom in the Spring. In Pakistan, the yellow mustard blossom is and was the color of Spring. Regardless of demographic parameters, the color represents the joy experienced at the onset of Spring after a long winter. Yellow is symbolic of happiness.
Using Pakistan as an example of how a color retains its timeless symbolism today, the city of Lahore marks the beginning of Spring with the Basant (which means yellow in Hindi) Festival.
This carnival is an orgy of kite-flying, rooftop soirees, garden parties and much more. The festival peaks with an all-night flood-lit kite-flying marathon. The kites come in different sizes as well - some have to be transported on the roofs of cars, others are small enough to be carried on bicycles. Yellow is the predominant color.
Of historical note: In pre-partition India, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs all celebrated Basant. Yellow clothes were worn; men wore yellow turbans and women yellow dupattas and saris.
Of political note: The government of Pakistan banned kite-flying in 2006 after ruling that the sport has become increasingly deadly. The government lifted the ban for the Basant Festival this year.
For scholarly debate (and of psychological note for those who disagree with the fact that the symbolism of a color may contain meanings that are universal):
An overwhelming majority of the 80,000 people (from all over the world) who have taken the Global Color Survey at Color Matters reply that yellow is the color of happiness. We must bear in mind that geographic, gender-based, political, national, cultural, religious and other meanings co-exist with the timeless and universal symbolism of a color. These other sources can be powerful sources for a broad analysis of a color. However, any argument for the precedence of other symbolic content can be problematic (and self-serving) if it dismisses the existence of symbolism based on the global experience of a color as it existed long before these other meanings evolved. The timeless and universal meaning provides the critical foundation for a complete analysis of a color.
This is the last commentary about the colors of Pakistan. In conclusion, I’ve created two special pages:
The Colors of Pakistan
(The timeless and timely symbolism of blue, green, yellow, red, and brown)
Letters to America
"We are not terrorists!" (and more)
You can also find the past blogs about Pakistan (February-March) in an expanded form with new graphics at the new Color Matters in Pakistan page.