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Can design really be a tool for women’s resistance?

3 min read

Amy Hayes, former Vermilion Art Director, shares how women seeking change isn’t a new phenomenon, particularly through art.

From millions of Women’s March participants to the #MeToo movement to the March for Our Lives speech by Emma González, the voices of today’s female activists are resounding and clear. Female artists throughout history have used design as a means of persuasion. The powerful combination of text and image—poster design in particular—has been as effective in catalyzing social justice as it has in igniting capitalist dreams through advertising. Here are a few outstanding examples.

Hilda Dallas

Poster advertising the weekly Suffragette Newspaper, Votes for Women. Design by Hilda Dallas in 1909

In the early 1900s, UK artist Hilda Dallas designed posters to advertise the popular weekly suffragette newspaper, Votes for Women. In the Art Nouveau style of the time, this optimistic piece depicted women in clothing and postures considered appropriately “feminine” to counter the belief that women voters would abandon their female duties. The movement was a success. Women everywhere in the Western world can now exercise the right to vote.

Corita Kent

Sister Corita Kent was an artist, educator, and activist for social justice at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Her vibrant serigraphs appropriate the typographic styles and advertising imagery, challenging viewers to consider issues of poverty, war, and racism.

Corita Kent, “Yellow Submarine”

Corita Kent, “Stop the Bombing”

Corita Kent, “Shalom”

Corita Kent, “With Love to the Everyday Miracle.” Images used with Permission of the Corita Art Center/immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles

Barbara Kruger

By the 1980s, conceptual artists more regularly used graphic design to express political messages. One such artist, Barbara Kruger, combined black-and-white photographs with powerful statements in white-on-red Futura Bold Oblique to explore cultural constructions of power, capitalism, identity, and sexuality.

Barbara Kruger, “With Love To The Everyday Miracle”

Barbara Kruger, “Your Body is a Battleground”

Barbara Kruger, “The Future Belongs to Those Who Can See It” Images Courtesy Jerónimo Pérez | Flickr

Camila Rosa

Contemporary Brazilian Illustrator Camila Rosa creates vivid, socially conscious pieces that inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves. In a Remezcla interview Rosa explains, “For me, my art is a way to try to change the world…it’s the way that I feel like a person that is doing something for the world.” Her colorful, upbeat work explores themes of feminism, self-worth, and immigration rights.

Camila Rosa “Hear Our Voice.” Poster design for a touring exhibition, “Hear Our Voices,” in support of the Women’s March On Washington (2017).

Camila Rosa. Illustration for WeTransfer in support of “March for Our Lives”

These five women, plus others who’ve gone unrecorded, paved the way for today’s female activist designers and artists. They persuasively and powerfully challenge us to consider today’s most pressing social issues and take action.

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