An array of empowering posters from female graphic designers across the country is currently scattering the walls of the MSU Union Art Gallery, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
Many of the designers recognized the injustice that remained in elections until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by showcasing intersectionality in their artwork.
Kelly Salchow MacArthur, professor of graphic design at Michigan State, teamed up with Nancy Skolos to create the campaign, partnering with the League of Women Voters and the American Institute of Graphic Design, or AIGA, “Get Out The Vote” poster campaign.
The exhibit is displayed in multiple locations, including Texas and California. Locally, it will expand to the (SCENE) Metrospace on Oct. 22, and remain through November.
“We’ve worked together through this project and we recognized that 2020 would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catalyze women in design toward a civic goal of voter participation and recognizing the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment,” Salchow MacArthur said.
Through their two years of research and organization, they noticed there was still discrimination within the suffrage movement.
“So, what initially had started as a celebration, soon kind of pivoted towards not exactly a celebration but more so a commemoration of the hundred years and a moment for us to reflect on the history of women’s fight for equality and voting rights,” Salchow MacArthur said.
Reneé Seward, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, designed her own poster highlighting the inequalities of the 1920 movement with her identity as a Black woman.
“I just kind of took out some paper and printed out some letters and started cutting them up and moving them around inside of a composition to help express how I felt about it all,” Seward said. “So I needed to put the Black woman in conflict with just women’s right to vote because it wasn’t enough that we were women, we were Black women. So we had extra different, difficult challenges in it.”
Seward used paper to visualize her design, scanned the compositions, applied color and layered each aspect to put together her poster.
“It’s really targeted toward talking to Black women, encouraging us to know that our votes matter,” Seward said. “And in everything that’s happening right now, with the killing of so many Black males that are brothers and husbands and children, we have to get out and vote in order to make a difference.”
Within her poster, you’ll see the phrase “We Shall Overcome,” which is a quote from the Civil Rights anthem. Seward says her great-grandmother wrote that song.
With a strong message and bold poster, Seward was worried the rest of the exhibition would be different than hers.
“I was nervous about saying yes to something that was for the women’s right to vote and then creating a disruptive poster about Blacks and how Blacks didn’t get that right,” Seward said. “But then when I went and looked at some of the other ones, many of them have this message of disrupting this idea that this women’s right to vote is something to be hugely celebrated because there’s a lot of tainted history with it.”
Many posters also focused on the importance of voting, especially in this upcoming presidential election.
An associate professor at San Diego State University, Arzu Ozkal, was also involved in this project and stressed the same idea of voter participation in her design. As a feminist, she wants younger women to know earning the right to vote was a fight.
“I’m from Turkey and coming from a patriarchal society, things were different when I was growing up,” Ozkal said. “We still had to submit to those societal norms and the patriarchal culture, so I’m really critical of that to be able to go out whenever you want or count your voice.”
Ozkal’s poster says “vote” in large letters made up of bubbles, connected by lines to show that one vote can make a difference.
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“Today, we are still going through the same struggles: access to healthcare, access to birth control, being able to vote and being able to be voted,” Ozkal said. “We’re still discussing if we could have a female president. All these issues are interconnected, our past and our future are interconnected. In everybody right now, voting or not voting is participating and contributing to our future.”
Karen Cheng, a professor at the University of Washington, designed her poster with the identity of female voters in mind, and a specific focus on typography. She used a typeface designed by a woman because it’s somewhat rare to find.
“Typefaces are a visual manifestation of a voice,” Cheng said. “So it felt really wrong to me that we would have a poster, a kind of artwork that was about women’s rights yet we would have to hear that kind of information through a male voice.”
The font she used is called Magnet, designed by Inga Plönnings. She requested a license to use it, as it is still a work in progress. This typeface has right and left-leaning italics, so she thought that could represent political stances.
Her design focuses on the names women are called in many circumstances. She wanted to emphasize the roles American women play in everyday life as voters.
“I also thought that was something that was universal, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent,” Cheng said. “As a woman, you can relate to these roles we have and you can be interested in voting to support the diversity of roles.”
Seeing all of the posters together from a design perspective was exciting for Cheng.
“It is pretty cool to see them all together because you see so much diversity and so much unity at the same time,” Cheng said. “People picked different things to focus on, people chose different visual approaches, which is interesting as a designer, and yet they all are pretty clearly related to this theme.”
As one of the people in charge of the event, Salchow MacArthur is proud of the message it portrays and the passion the artists brought.
“We find ourselves in a divided country right now,” Salchow MacArthur said. “So people are anxious, I think, to stand up for what they believe in. I think the posters were more impassioned than I’ve seen in the past (with AIGA’s poster campaigns), even though they were nonpartisan. I think giving the designers a platform that was specific to women’s rights and women’s voting probably opened that possibility up.”
Overall, designers hope their posters inspire people to vote.
“I hope that (people) look at them and I hope at least there’s one in the midst of them that compels them to go out and vote,” Seward said. “We cannot sleep on this. However you feel about anything, the most important thing is that you go out to the polls and let your voice be heard.”
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