The Worlds We Speak

wide shot of ceramic mosaic The Worlds We Speak at LaGuardia Airport
Mariam Ghani’s The Worlds We Speak (debossed, glazed, handmade ceramic tile; brushed steel; approx. 365 sq. ft.; 2022) installed at LaGuardia Airport Terminal C

The Worlds We Speak visualizes the linguistic diversity of the tri-state metropolitan area as a colorful mosaic of handmade ceramic tiles. For this commission, Ghani partnered with the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), an organization that documents and promotes the diversity of languages spoken in New York City and beyond, filtering the data from their NYC Language Map to spotlight over 700 languages and dialects spoken in the regions most served by LaGuardia Airport.

Against a dark blue sky, Ghani arranges six spherical clusters, each representing one region, made up of smaller circular tiles. Each circle represents one linguistic community in that region, and is inscribed with an endonym – the self-designated name of the language or dialect they speak, in that community’s own language and script. The size of the circular tiles corresponds to the size of the local linguistic community, while their colors represent language families, with similar colors indicating similar regions of origin. Curved metal “flight paths” extend from some of the circular tiles representing local linguistic communities to texts below the spherical clusters, which name their corresponding communities of origin in other parts of the world. These paths represent both hyper-specific journeys from small towns in other countries to local NYC neighborhoods, and long-lasting ties between communities here and elsewhere.

Ghani’s mural emphasizes language’s ability to move beyond borders. She also encourages viewers to think about the worlds contained in words. Every language is a way of seeing and representing all that surrounds us: a different slant on the world. Every language is also an archive of its speakers’ history, full of clues to their ancestors’ experiences, encounters, and peregrinations. These colorful tiles represent a wealth of knowledge that comes from the incredible diversity right here in our backyard. (text: Heather Reyes-Duke for Queens Museum)

Image credit: Justin Kaneps for The New York Times



Commissioned by Delta Air Lines in partnership with the Queens Museum, New York

Mariam Ghani

Architectural Designer
Farhad Mirza

Project Manager
Jessica Y Lee

Data adapted from the NYC Language Map, a project by the Endangered Language Alliance

Original data visualization
Mariam Ghani

Final data visualization
Josh Wong, Madi Ostoja, Assemble Studio

Additional research / linguistic consultants
Ross Perlin & Daniel Kaufman, Endangered Language Alliance

Sarah Dunham & Glen Cummings, MTWTF

Type Design
Zenab Bastawala

Web Development
John Kudos, Chris Manlapid, Christyan Juniady Setiawan, KUDOS Design Collaboratory

Tile Fabrication
Andru Eron, New York Tilemakers
Studio Assistants: Emma Arlauskas, Elia Doyle, Amelie Gaulier, Dana Miller, Samson Neary

Metal Fabrication
John Murray, Creative Metal Fabrication

Custom Stamp Production
3D Printing: Shapeways
Rubber Stamps: John Casey, Casey Rubber Stamps

2D Printing

Architectural Modeling, Prototype Phase
Emily Eberhart

3D Stamp Modeling Support
Dakota Pace

2D Design Assistance
Li-Ming Hu

Art Movers
EMS Group

Installation Team
Garcia Marble and Tile

Zanna Williams

Special thanks to:
Rodney Fuller, Interim Executive Director, Queens Council on the Arts
Joseph LoBello, Interim Board Chair, Queens Council on the Arts
Frank Raffaele, Treasurer, Queens Council on the Arts
Stephan Freid, Project Director, Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Heather Reyes-Duke, Special Projects and Exhibitions Manager, Queens Museum
Paula Kirby, Plaxall
Will Magley & Matthew McClure, Shapeways
John Tung, BluEdge
Konstantin Obuhov, EMS Group
Robert Garcia, Chris Garcia & Juan Garcia, Garcia Marble and Tile
Unha Kim & Sarah Roorda, Fireclay Tile
Philippe D’Arlhac, Milestone Decal Art
Chris Wu, Wkshps
Casper Lam & YuJune Park, Synoptic Office
Lynne Yun
Lou Wang-Holborn
Hai-Li Kong
Yoko Inoue
Chitra Ganesh