Visualst challenged its data ninjas to analyze poems on personal identity and cultural journeys into network maps. It completely changed our process of defining one’s identity.

Visualst hosted the second Art is Data workshop on May 16.

Video highlights of the Art is Data, May Workshop (Poetry and Line-Node Data Visualizations)

This time we challenged ourselves to transform local poets artwork into data visualizations. As a part of our Art is Data project, and in preparation for Maputo Fast Forwards theme Life Design: Migration and Identity in the 21st Century, Visualst analyzed how migration influences identity in Maputo.  The team conducted a layered thematic analysis of common themes, like origin, nature, journey, and culture, which became the nodes and then drew lines that connected all six poems with one another.

Overall line-node mapping of identity constructs from our analysis of the six poems performed. On the left, the ‘perspective’ of the author in how they represented their ‘origin’ throughout their poems. The central themes are ones that were shared- and the size of the circle denotes the frequency of the word ‘use’ or meaning in a stanza of each poem. The color represents the ’emotion’ of each line and the outside connection communicate who the author is referring to and connections between sub-themes.
Our poetry wheel provides another perspective of the our analysis themes. It builds from the center (perspective) of the poem’s author, then explores how the layering of themes differs acorss the three denominations.

The workshop was a combination of spoken poetry and reflective discussions to gain insight and feedback on whether the use of data to capture the movement of the poems was effective. Poetry permitted us to access a deeper level of thought and ability to cross-reference themes among varying life journeys during the analysis, leading to an open and honest discussion.

The Process

Six poets answer our call for poems – each offering a nuanced perspective of native, acquaintance, or outsider/migrant. We identified core relationships and ideologies of culture, home, and belonging. Surprising references surfaced like anatomical references to the body and physical use of one’s body were reoccurring themes. We found that poets who identified as outsiders had a more primal note using words such as “horny,” “blood,” “breathe,” and “DNA.” Natives used gentle and soft ways to use the body to describe their own journey; “whispering,” “brushing,” “heart,” “chest,” “tongue,” and breath. Acquaintances, on the other hand, incorporated a dream-like essence backed with sturdiness; “raw fish,” “zebra,” “dragons,” “sex,” and “neck.” Moreover, we coded the sentiment found in the tonality of the poem and attached each one to a represented color that would be used as a method to trace the flow of voice to each theme. Visualst designed eight data visualizations: one sunburst graph showing the similarities and differences among the three relationships using themes, sub-themes, and keywords. Each poem had its own data visualization that held the poet on one end and who they were talking to on the other end. The colored lines traced through the flow of the poem, passing through key phrases to themes to subthemes, revealing the raw and honest view of the poet.

By introducing live poetry into our workshop space, the participants were able to listen and soak in the poem in the voice and tonality of the poet and then discuss whether the key themes that Visualst identified and visualized represented how the poets performed their artform.


We had the chance to work with amazing poets that provided different views on our migration topic, showing different tastes, colors, textures, and borders!

Overall, the idea of the workshop was to show how we translated poems into visual formats that capture the emotions using color, and the words using analytical lens and quantitative metrics such a frequency.

We all come from somewhere. We are all influenced by something and inspired by others. We are shaped by our identity or the identity’s of our neighbors. Our next workshop is on June 27th, which will explore ways to create art and visualizations from data detailing the ongoing relief efforts of Cyclone Idai.