Elizabeth Resnick has spent a career championing social issues through exhibits of posters. The most recent, which will open on Sept. 26 at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, comes with a catalog and message. I’m publishing this to ensure that you put it on your calendars. I asked Resnick to talk about the issues, the show and the impact on society. (For all the posters collected so far, go here.)
You’ve done exhibitions on many social issues. This, you’ve mentioned, is the last in your series. Would you say it’s the most important?
There were so many potent issues on display within my three previous poster exhibitions like: global politics; war and terrorism; environmental crises caused by man, and often linked to climate change; health crises (AIDS in particular); human rights abuses; gender politics; and the list goes on and on. “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights: International Posters for Gender-based Inequality, Violence and Discrimination” seeks to shine a spotlight on the issues, violence and discrimination women face; particularly timely given that women’s rights simply do not exist in so many countries, and even in first-world countries, women are still discriminated against in the workplace, in education, in equal pay for equal work, in health care coverage, and in family leave policies.
The idea that women did not have rights for so long under our constitution is crazy but true. What are the issues that come up most in your poster collection?
In collecting these materials, my thrust was to touch upon the most important (in my opinion) aspects of this discrimination and violence that many women face on a daily basis, starting with domestic violence and its acceptance as the norm in many cultures (including our culture), inequality of the sexes (and its abuses), gender and race discrimination, lack of equal pay. I sound like a broken record!
I’ve asked you this each time you do an exhibit: I know the exhibits are historical records of justice and injustice, but do they have a practical impact and outcome?
Exhibitions can be very powerful narratives. All cultures embrace stories/narratives to help “model” how we think and how we act. Consider the most popular TV shows or movies or plays or books that offer ways of thinking and acting that might not be “modeled” otherwise in people’s lives. Although exhibitions do not have the same reach as broadcast media, they can live on the internet, and I do make sure that all my exhibitions have a print component as a physical document when all broadcast and internet presence has moved on.
Every so often, a poster makes a difference in a discourse, either by supporting or opposing an idea, event or policy. I don’t want you to make Sophie’s Choice but which, say, three, do that for you in this grouping?
In curating/selecting previous poster work, I have had a tendency to include artist/designer responses, usually single caring women and men who feel compelled to have their say in the world in which they live. I started out in this manner for “Women’s Rights,” but quickly uncovered some amazing work being created by advertising agencies, many in Muslim countries, doing campaigns against gender violence: India-based Taproot Dentsu’s Abused Goddess campaign for “Save Our Sisters” is both smart as it is beautiful and unexpected. Sweden’s Volonaire campaign on FGM using the metaphor of a rose to explain three different methods imposed on girls and young women forced to suffer this mutilation. I also want to applaud designers Joe Scorsone and Alice Drueding for their “Fistula” poster, an effective visual explanation of this terrible violent act inflicted on innocent women caught up in their homeland’s civil wars, as if rape wasn’t enough pain to inflict.
What do you hope people will learn from this collection?
First and foremost, this will not be an easy experience for viewers. Even if the result is colorful, pleasing and aesthetic, the messages they carry cannot be distanced by gender or culture.
What do you want to do next?
I truly do not know. I will focus my time more on publishing. I have been researching women designers from the mid-20th century to bring their stories to light to inspire a new generation of young women seeking to work in this field.
Sept. 26–Oct. 29
President’s Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston
(There will be an opening or closing with a program sponsored by AIGA Boston and MassArt. TBA.)
Sept. 9–Nov. 2
Cultural Center, San Luis Potosi, Mexico (part of the Mexican Poster Biennial)
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