What instantly comes to mind when you see this image:

Kevin-Gilbert-Colonising-species-1989_COMPLEX IMAGE_SEMIOTICS

 {image source}

For some, it may be that the ugly duckling story springs to mind, or you think of UOW’s aggressive geese that won’t hesitate to steal your lunch. Basically there could be many interpretations , but there is one that is the true, deeper meaning of this complex image.

This is an example of what we call Semiotics.  For those of you who don’t know, semiotics refers to the ‘study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation’, which is what you have just involved in by reading into the image above.

This image is actually an artwork created by the indigenous artist Kevin Gilbert in 1989. I came across it hanging in a hallway when I was wandering like a lost sheep in a maze, only that maze was building 19 at UOW.

Kevin Gilbert was a Wiradjuri man who was passionate about Aboriginal culture and was actively involved in advocating indigenous rights. Gilbert designed this artwork titled ‘Colonising Species’, with the intentions of providing a racial commentary on the oppression of Aboriginal people.

Let’s delve into the deeper meaning of the artwork and understand what is being represented and what it means.


White swan:  symbolises Europeans

Black swan:  symbolises Aboriginal people

Red water in foreground:  connotes the bloodshed of Aboriginal people

Composition and colour of background:  signifies the Aboriginal flag


When you entangle these connotations and denotations together to form its meaning, you can interpret that it is a lack of Aboriginal sovereignty which is embedded into the message of this artwork, more specifically Gilbert is responding to the High Court’s rejection of ‘terra nullius’ in the 1992 Mabo case .

Despite Gilbert’s racial commentary on the oppression of Aboriginal people being central to the artwork’s meaning, many people may have interpreted the message differently in a semiotic sense.

So why do these different interpretations exist, and how does this occur?

Based on the communication model of ‘Encoding and Decoding’ that was established by the cultural theorist Stuart Hall  in 1973, a ‘frame work of knowledge’ is required in order to allow viewers to understand the message that is being communicated.

This ‘framework’ refers to the need for the decoder of a message, being the viewer, to have the same ‘code’ as the encoder, who is the creator of a message.

If your confused, to break it down:

Encode-Decode Meme_3

{Meme created here by me}

Also, by the phrase ‘code’ I am referring to an individual’s understanding that may be driven by their personal values, beliefs and experiences which articulates their ideological position. It is this ideology  that then determines how an individual undergoes the process of interpretation and applies their own connotations to the meaning that they make of the message. Basically what I’m trying to say is that one image can have many interpretations to different people.

So did you have the same ‘code’ as the artist??

If you didn’t that’s okay, but hopefully you gained some new knowledge that you can apply to your ideologies in the future.

Feel free to comment below what your interpretation was.



3 thoughts on “Semiotics

Add yours

  1. Ooh! So meme-tastic Kara!
    I had essentially the same knowledge and interpretation as you. Although I had the knowledge of the British thinking of Australia as having everything back to front; like we have black swans whereas they have white, that just adds a deeper layer of interpretation of the encodment. Also your formatting within your run down of the elements within the image didn’t translate well to mobile view, just letting yah know, 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed this post. Your example of semiotics is interesting, and one which I most likely wouldn’t have picked up on myself. After reading this blog I feel that I should become more conscious of the images surrounding me in everyday life, and to think of these in a deeper sense. Your engagement with the artwork is timely, seeing that the discussion around changing the date of Australia Day has recently gained traction, and I think it is important that images such as the one you have chosen are considered more deeply in today’s world more than ever. I look forward to more informative posts such as this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad to hear that this post has broadened someone’s knowledge and benefited you !!! Thankyou for your feedback I really appreciate it. Hope you have a good day 🙂


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