The Daily Heller: She/Her/He/Iconic Picto Language

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Madrid-based designers Sonia Diaz Jimenez and Gabriel Martínez García (known jointly as Un Mundo Feliz), are prolific authors of books on, about and promoting graphic activism. Most recently they have created, collected and made available a wealth of clever polemical "Pictomontages," or "Pictos," in two books, Woman Sans (Mincho Press) and Protest!: Pictogram Activism to Change the World (Hoaki Press). These Pictos are "based on the ISOTYPE pictorial language system; they are a set of reusable elements that formulate a common vocabulary for visual activism." All the images are available for free use. (Contact the publisher here.).

The two books sampled below are imbued with what design critic Liz McQuiston writes in the introduction to Protest as "passion, politics and wit," adding, "they scream, they cry, they shout warning, they laugh (at us?) … they force us to be human, to feel their emotion."

As I write in my own brief essay in Protest:

"While only as strong as the paper they are printed on, signs, symbols, posters and other graphics can have positive effects, at least as motivational and aspirational iconography. Although graphic expression will not change the present or future of pestilence and injustice—and might only serve as a bandage covering a festering sore—it is better to join a chorus of protest, if only to show that there is an opposition. Resistance to oppression, prejudice and power usually starts with small things.

"At the risk of overstating the impact of these graphic devices, as a critical mass they speak a certain truth to specific power. They contain the seeds of rebellion. Perhaps this book contains one or more graphic designs that by design or serendipity will be the next peace sign or other visual motif that rallies us together under a world-enhancing banner. Yet maybe not. But we can hope, right?"

This all sounds idealistic and wishful, perhaps. But in our nearly (we hope) post-pandemic world, as Avram Finkelstein notes in one of the book's other essays, "Rage is what drives liberation"—therefore to make an impact, rage must "cast a shadow." And these symbols do just that.