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Ivorian graphic designer aims to depict Indian culture through emojis of Holi, street food

In an exclusive with DT Next, O’Plérou talks about the importance of emojis in today’s day and age, and how he would illustrate the diverse country of India through emoticons

Ivorian graphic designer aims to depict Indian culture through emojis of Holi, street food

O’Plérou Grebet

CHENNAI: Emojis, a tiny digital icon today, are used to express emotions and sentiments of a person, with just a tap. These tiny pictures have dominated our conversations, allowing us to laugh out loud and cry, all at the same time.

First created by the Japanese interface designer Shigetaka Kurita in the late 1990s, emojis have evolved themselves to being gender and culture inclusive, allowing every single person to choose an emoji, based on their skin tone and personality. The escalation of these emoticons in late 2014, made Jeremy Burge, an emoji historian from Australia and the founder of Emojipedia, to initiate July 17 every year as the World Emoji Day.


According to a study by Crossword Solver in 2022, the folded hands emoji became the most popularly used emoticon in India. It rightfully depicts our culture of greeting somebody in the place of namaste, and showing gratitude, joining hands with dhanyawad (thanks). This year is all about the face with tears of joy emoticon, which has been rated the most prominently used in the country, as per the Facemoji Keyboard’s 2023 State of Emoji report.

Curating the art of creating culture inclusive emoticons, O’Plérou Grebet, an Ivorian graphic designer and illustrator, pledged to create one emoji a day for 365 days representing elements of life and culture of West Africa. In a conversation, the young designer emphasizes his love for Indian culture and its festivities which he finds fascinating and deeply rooted to the country’s traditions.


Today, most people rely on emoticons to express themselves in any conversation. How do you think this has transformed the way people express themselves emotionally?

I think emojis have helped us to accurately represent our emotions because they help to nuance our words with icons in a way that words cannot always do. They are also used to express our identity in a much precise form, with a few words. One best example is our social media bio, which is the first piece of information about a person, that one reads. Keeping one’s description short with emojis makes a person interesting, yet secretive as not a lot is disclosed, making people intrigued.

Edo coral pearls (Wedding set)

Do you think the constant use of emojis have made conversations less meaningful? Do you think it’s the right way of conveying true feelings and perspective?

I do not believe so, as, according to me, they help to add precise context and true emotions to any conversation. However, they can make the communication less clear if the right emojis are not sent to the right person, shattering the true essence of what is being conveyed. I won’t say emojis are the ‘right’ way, but they help a lot. Written words and oral stories can also do that, like they did for generations, which emojis have taken over.

How do you think emoticons have helped binding culture and become culture inclusive?

Emojis have recently focused on binding people of different countries, with their clothing, lifestyle, food and many more. When I started my project Zouzoukwa, my goal was to share African culture in a unique and colourful manner.

Emoticons have embraced different cultures by encoding more and more cultures as the list grows, one of it being Khamsa, an emoji that I had created, which is a symbol used as an amulet and jewellery by the people of north Africa to protect themselves from evil eye. The term Khamsa also means five in Arabic and Hebrew, referring to the five fingers.

Savika (Fight with bare hands against Zebu)

Since you are known for making emojis strongly representing your culture, could you tell us how you would depict our country India, if you were to make an emoji for us?

I have known India to be a country rich in diversity with profound beliefs in their culture and way of life. If I could portray India through my art, I would make emojis representing the beautiful colours of the ecstatic festival Holi and the traditional garment saree, which I find a true representation of an Indian woman. I am also fascinated to create something on the country’s various modes of transport and not to forget, the delicious street food, which the country is known for.

Kita, traditional garment of Akan ethnic group

How do you see emoticons growing in the near future?

I hope that in the near future, technology will allow us to have ‘cultural nodes’ of emojis, the kind of network that makes sure that people from various cultures are represented in emojis. For instance, since storage is an issue, I would want people from West Africa to have access to some emoticons that people in Kazakhstan wouldn’t have access to, because they’re not on the same node.

Ankita Nair
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