“Silent Deep Purple Box” by Tina-Margaret Steele

November 16, 2004

In my deafness experience, I began a journey into a hearing world that would change my life forever. It has been a journey that has led my mind and heart along a path of suffering and pain to eventual hope and joy. So many other deaf people have taken this same journey. I always thought doing self-portraits was interesting, the way it makes you stare at and study your own face. Once I started to study it that way, it’s almost like I am looking at a different person. I like to think of art in this way. Some of my artwork is personal, in the most intimate sense.

The body of the box displays a myriad shade of dark deep purple, the interior of which has both horizontal and vertical sides and are six inches. For this reason, I decided to design the self-portrait box model that is made of mat boards that tells stories.  Inside of the box I created the build scale model of an interior room layout and each side inside of the box adds a chapter to the story of my life. The building blocks of my self-portrait – as I move again and again my life is packed and stacked up before me. This box obsessed with possession is my expression to everyone.

Being in an Air Force family, we packed up and moved a lot. That meant if something related to my education did not work out by the end of the year, my parents would either have to find a private accredited tutor or move to where I could continue my education. I began experiencing frustration when we transferred to the different schools many times. I felt that deafness is more of an inconvenience than a disability because I was pushed to do school work and speech by my mom without understanding the concept of the spoken English language.


Colors are an important part of environment and often have different symbolic meanings in different cultures. Each color has meaning and stimulates memories from the past and a certain feeling when I see it. The colors I choose for my box really do influence my emotions because color can create mood. With the Deep Purple Box, I visualize the color purple, deep, rich, flowing around me. My gifts begin to unfold. My gifts of clairvoyance (seeing what is not usually seen) begin to increase and will continue to do so every day from now on. Purple means a great social life.

The rich shining red tile flooring I created welcomes you to look through the window inside of the box in a special way  It shines a lot of generous light, like the idiom, ‘roll out the red carpet.’ Red is related to the passion that I have for my hopes. Red is very visually empowering.

Black is used to express style and sophistication on the front wall inside of the room and can make other colors appear brighter. This color is both positive and negative. Black also works well with strong, jewel-toned shades of the red flooring. It is the ultimate dark color and makes lighter colors, like yellow on both sides of the room really pop out. My personal photographs look brighter against a black background and smaller against both the yellow walls.

Yellow is my favorite color of intellect and leads to my ability to think very deep. Yellow walls brighten a room and make deaf people feel welcome. It’s good for deaf social gatherings because they tend to communicate more in yellow light. Red floor and yellow and black walls together create a bold, attention-grabbing color mix through the window of the box. These colors work best if the vision guides me, not I guide it.


The ceiling of the room box, I personally created dolphins to beautify with a mirror for reasons that are related to my dream and reality. And this is a major part of my art work. Imagine diving down, staying under water, and not worrying about having to breathe. Join them in their world by visualizing it, experiencing it, and being with them in the dreamtime in that way. Dolphins are frequently communicating in ways that are ahead of my understanding in my sleeping. It’s much like joining a different culture or tribe -at first I wouldn’t understand a word they were saying. Yet, the longer you live with them, the more you learn the language, just like Hearing culture. Dolphins’ communication has more to do with telepathy and a heart connection.

For the wall lamp shades, I used my old drafting and drawing materials, except pen and ink; high clarity, translucent erasable surface on both sides.  I created two lighting shades, where the self-portrait is in between them.  To illuminate the space, use flashlights, room lighting or outside of the window to create beams of light in the back of the box.

For art displays on the floor of the interior of my gallery box, I created the miniature mirror that symbolizes intellectual perception and a mystical experience. It is my belief that the miniature mirror reveals the giant hatred secret to me because I was forced to speak in the mirror and learned how to move my mouth.  The design of the box forces the viewer to see their own eye reflected in the mirror as they peep into my world; thus, the become part of my self-portrait.


Photos of my past life are displayed on the each wall, especially, a self-portrait picture of me on the front black wall inside of the box when you look inside of the box through the window I designed. The self-portrait photo of me was taken at a block street party last summer 04’. My friend, Valdies, transferred the photos from my camera to her Mac Apple computer, using a technique from Photoshop colorful patterns after she cut the area of each half face of 4 girls of us. She added a channel mixer layer grouped to the texture layer in the order to lighten and slightly yellow and red the image, like Andy Warhol’s Pop Art self-portrait art image.

The photo of my old private Oral school appears on the right yellow wall inside of the box. I sat in second row chair in the middle when I was about 7 years old. I looked so sad because I had to live without my family while my parents had to live on the base in Homestead, Florida. This oral school was only 2 hrs away. At the end, I hardly learned anything except for math and some speech at school. Then I transferred to a mainstream elementary school in south Miami when I was 10 yrs old. I took the tests given by the specialists in the theories and methods of education for deaf. I only knew 75 words before I learned to use sign language. I always felt so frustrated when the teachers criticized my school work, such as grammar or answers; I always faced this kind of demand from the teachers. I made it through rough times at a few different schools. For example, the teacher had to put soap in my mouth if I don’t pronounce words right.

On the left side of a yellow wall, two photos appear.  One is of me as a child with a fearful facial expression and the other is of my daughter signing ‘ILY.’ I analyzed both pictures to compare myself and my daughter. I really don’t remember why I expressed such a fearful facial language in the picture. The facial expression may be a bit exaggerated. Fear is the expression that can front for other non-verbal communications –  sadness, insecurity, and stupidity.

My daughter in the other photo understood the sign of ‘ILY’ even though she could be hearing or deaf of deaf parents. Did I know or remember what “I love you” is as a child? Not till I first learned sign language. I see many hearing parents wonder too if their deaf children understand ‘ILY’, too.

I believe in telling a story with my artwork and therefore this project has evolved into a language of symbols. I considered myself as a deaf interior artist, instead of an interior designer like other hearing designers, because of the communication barriers that had a blunt affect on my college/career goal. My spoken English skill is very limited for an interior designer position. This process of working with symbols helps me to connect with the hearing world, and continue my exploration of life and purpose through my art.