The heart symbol is everywhere, especially now as we approach Valentine’s Day. But even once Valentine’s Day has passed, I will still inevitably interact with a heart symbol daily and possibly scores of times as I scroll through Instagram, ‘liking’ photographs and comments, or occasionally on Facebook if I particularly appreciate a post.
Heart emojis abound beyond the classic red heart – I can choose from a variety of rainbow colours as well as variations on the theme of a red heart. Yet why is this symbol so ubiquitous and apparently universal? In my own experience culturally there is another body organ regularly invoked as a term of endearment – the liver. I frequently heard the word jigar, which is Farsi for liver, as I was growing up, and is associated with love and affection. It has been described as the ultimate Persian term of endearment.
However this is what happened when I tried to write a message on my phone and include a liver emoji:
The heart symbol has been even incorporated into street signage. Below, an instruction to maintain social distancing is surrounded by a heart, connoting that this is a friendly, caring instruction rather than a restrictive order. I love the doubling coincidence here, with the heart-filled hair of the cafe-goer juxtaposed with the street sign:
There are more examples of the use of hearts in signage in my blog entitled Signs of The Times photographed during the early part of the pandemic, where the symbol was used to show appreciation for the NHS.
I’ve gathered some examples of heart imagery and graffiti both from home in London from my recent travels. Below, a few from Venice, Italy, starting with a photograph taken on the Calatrava Bridge in November 2021:
A Venetian public altar depicts Jesus Christ with an exposed heart, known as the sacred heart. :
More Catholic religious imagery featuring the sacred heart, this time juxtaposed with a sign for a fire extinguisher. Seen in Lecce in the southern heel of Italy:
Recently seen in London’s Portobello Road market, a shopper wearing a long robe complete with a portrait of Jesus and sacred heart imagery on the shoulders:
Despite the Catholic equation of the heart and love, the symbol is universally accepted and extends beyond religion.
Below, steamy windows in a New York Ramen bar; a heart, dripping in the humidity, has been drawn on the glass:
New York Graffiti:
Padlocks in Osaka, Japan:
A surreal Parisian scene featuring a feather boa, hanging heart and Eiffel Tower dildo:
Back in London, some feel good local graffiti involving hearts. Below seen on Highgate Road in 2021. (It’s still there!):
In Camden Lock, a bilingual chalk marriage proposal. The text is in both Hebrew and English, and the symbol of choice is the internationally understood heart:
An image that also features on my previous blog on graffiti and waste bins:
And finally this was my cheery coffee the other day at Bar Italia in Soho:
I wonder whether in Iran there’s a love emoji that looks like a liver, and baristas who create liver symbol patterns in latte foam art …
Also published on Medium.