Skip to page content
Educational Resources

Coded Narratives

Sanford Biggers, Haute Mess, 2014

Sanford Biggers is a multimedia artist who works across materials such as sculpture, textiles, performance, installation, and video. For the past decade, he has used antique quilts as a canvas to
collage, draw, and intervene upon. These objects, themselves holding a place in American history and expressing narratives from historical events like the Underground Railroad, are repurposed to create cross-generational communication and collaboration.

In Haute Mess (2014), Biggers combines fragments of antique quilts, fabrics, acrylic, house and spray paint, and Buddhist iconography, a tradition he was exposed to during a residency in Japan. In this work, Biggers references the broader tradition of quilting within the United States, as well as
his personal history and relationship with textiles, which he first explored through visiting fabric stores in immigrant communities in Los Angeles with his mother. The patterns and colors reference
languages of music and painting. Here, Biggers remixes these codes with found materials, symbols of pop culture, international cultural imagery, and historic narratives to create a work that exists between painting, drawing, and sculpture.


To engage in visual inquiry around the work of Sanford  and learn about the history and influences in his practice. To create a collaged work that experiments with sharing your narrative through symbols, colors, and patterns.

Essential Question

How can we tell our story with symbols, either existing or invented? What can be communicated through symbols, colors, and patterns?


  • Construction paper
  • Fabric scraps
  • Patterned paper scraps
  • Paint markers or other markers
  • Scissors
  • Glue or glue stick


  1. Cut the construction paper into a large square. This will be the base of your work.
  2. Create smaller pieces of fabric and paper scraps if needed.
  3. Look at Haute Mess by Sanford Biggers and engage in visual inquiry around this work.

  • What symbols do you see and recognize?
  • What symbols are you not familiar with?
  • What do the colors and patterns communicate to you and do they remind you of anything?
  • What story do you read from this work?
  • How might you tell your own story through such techniques?



To come between or occur incidentally so as to modify


A variation of an original made by rearranging or adding to the original


A way of presenting or understanding a situation or series of events that reflects and promotes a particular point of view or set of values


A technique of composing a work of art by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another


A technique for expressing ideas (as in communication, entertainment, or art) in which several media are employed


A discernible coherent system based on the intended interrelationship of component parts


Something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing
something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign


  1. Use the square construction paper as your base.
  2. Begin by selecting the paper scraps you will use. Pay special attention to what colors and patterns you are gravitating toward. What draws you to your selection? You can cut and layer these pieces as you see fit.
  3. Arrange and glue down the paper pieces to cover your entire construction paper. How have you decided to arrange your patterns and colors?
  4. Next, with the paint markers or markers, draw a symbol or image on top of your paper collage. This can be something from your everyday life, or imagery that is invented. You can reflect on a feeling, mood, or recent occurrence in your life. What from your narrative do you want to communicate and how?
  5. With the fabric piece, create a pattern that interprets your day or week and layer it on top so you can still see parts of your drawing and paper collage underneath. What does your daily pattern look like? You can cut and layer these pieces as you see fit.
  6. Glue down your fabric pieces and allow enough time for your work to dry.


  1. Display your work on a table or wall.
  2. Engage in a group discussion or self-reflection around the works created and the process.
  3. What symbols did you include, whether common or invented?
  4. What codes did you incorporate in this work?
  5. How do you interpret these symbols? How might others interpret them?
  6. What would you want others to learn from your narrative?