From the millions of Women’s March on Washington participants to the swelling #MeToo movement to the powerful March for Our Lives speech by Parkland shooting survivor Emma González, the voices of today’s female activists are resounding and clear. But women seeking change isn’t a new phenomenon, particularly through art.
Female artists throughout history have used the medium of 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 igniting capitalist dreams through advertising. Here are a few outstanding examples.
In the early 1900s, UK artist Hilda Dallas designed posters to advertise the popular weekly suffragette newspaper, Votes for Women. This optimistic piece, in the Art Nouveau style of the time, 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
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 imagery of advertising, challenging viewers to consider issues of poverty, war, and racism.
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.
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.
These five women, plus others who’ve gone unrecorded, paved the way for today’s female activist designers and artists. They challenge us in a persuasive and powerful way to not only consider today’s most pressing social issues but to take action.