Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Ruby Barone

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Summer 2021

Research Project: Words and Weapons: The RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ’s Formula for Reclaiming the Power of Language

Project Description: This project explores the history and power of language in relation to graffiti writer Rammellzee’s philosophy of Ikonoklast Panzerism as well as to his art. Using informal interviews, ethnographic engagement, and close readings relating to Rammellzee and the alphabet’s history, I investigate how the individual can claim the power of language back from colonizers and oppressors through subversive art. I question how Rammellzee’s work can be used to reimagine the alphabet as a tool to deconstruct monuments of oppression and imperialism that are pervasive to society. Rammellzee founded Ikonoklast Panzerism on the idea that each individual letter of the alphabet can be armored and weaponized in order to free themselves from the institutions which wield the power of language over the rest of society. He bases his beliefs in the medieval history of monastic illuminated calligraphy and uses his theories to create art which subverts structures of power. I argue that Rammellzee’s work reveals the potential of individualized power by reclaiming the almighty power of language and challenging the limitations of legibility and standardization.

What have you learned throughout your research project?

The most eye-opening thing I have learned throughout this research project is how far-reaching of a term “research” can be. I witnessed while working on my own project as well as supporting my cohort in their projects, that we all underwent vastly different paths of research. Many of us incorporated our own experiences and emotional responses into our projects, which I would have never thought could be a part of a legitimate, academic research project. I also learned how much research projects are born out of mistakes and coincidence – I didn’t pick my topic until about halfway through the summer, and only because I happened to run into a friend with whom I had visited a Rammellzee exhibit years before. It was comforting to know that so many great projects and papers were a result of trial and error, and that every researcher encounters struggles throughout their process. At the start of the summer, I was very intimidated by the prestige surrounding research and symposium, but this experience helped me to have more confidence in my own process and to be more accepting of myself especially when the perfect idea did not come to me right away.  

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

When you are applying, keep in mind that your project’s focus will likely shift and develop over time, which is a good thing! Be open to change and don’t limit yourself to one idea – the point of research is to learn and grow.