mass agitation !
BLM protesters in 2020 have been faced by problems of police brutality, excessive force, state-supported disruption of emergency services, unwarranted arrests and majority communities co-opting the BLM message in bid to seem woke.
Performative, armchair activism by designers and artists has also been rampant, and has had no real impact on the affected communities- including BLM graffiti, hashtags & online black square posts.
The challenge is to further the role of graphic design beyond banners, infographics, graffiti etc in assisting these dissenting voices and actively equip communities with tools that make a real difference.
Pages from My Research
The Big Idea:
To develop guerrilla graphic design based tools that are self-driven, fluid and highly adaptive to assist dissenters and subvert state surveillance.
The outcomes designed are a series of cross-platfom analog + digital subversion techniques inspired by designer Amy Suo Wuo's interpretations of the ancient tool of secret communication known as the Cardan Grille.
what is a cardan grille ?
A Cardan Grille is a stegonographic technique of subversion and messaging used in Ancient China.
Traditionally, A Cardan grille is made from a sheet of fairly rigid paper and has rectangular areas cut out at arbitrary intervals between the lines of writing.
This, layered onto a secondary message can highlight selected words, thus revealing a secret message.
Both components are sent through different channels for extra security, eg: one to be sent via mail and one delivered in person.
The design solution, inspired by the Cardan Grille resulted in a series of postcards to be handed out at BLM protests.
Among the banners, flyers and other print media commonly handed out at protests, the postcards are seemingly innocuous and do not arouse suspicion. However on closer look they are designed to have creased cutouts and hold a web address in fine print.
On visiting the website and overlaying the postcard, a cardan grille is formed revealing the subverted message, namely locations for emergency services, safe spaces to avoid arrests, reveal fake right-wing news propaganda etc.
"Black people are 4 times more likely to have force used against them" Statistic reveal using analog+ digital cardan grille
Emergency medical services revealed along protest route
using digital+ analog cardan grille
Highlighting facts from a right wing
article masquerading as pro-BLM using digital + analog cardan grille
The goal achieved is to equip the dissenting populace with tools that could be customised and adapted by them to be means of active dissent as per their individual needs, rather than create a one-size-fits-all performative graphic solution with no active role.
Phase 2 - Shifting accountability
Following the research around design and decoloniality, another stakeholder is prominent apart from the affected “minority groups” of people of colour. The dominantly white majority upper-middle class audience are perpetuators of silent racism and oppressive systems, despite being self-elected as “well-meaning”. However visual and social research suggests that all graphic design solutions thus far have been aimed at people of colour who are already well versed in minority struggles.
The second guerrilla program developed as a response aimed at the white majority group is a series of guerrilla stickers. These with the sticky side and a camouflage pattern on the upside are placed at public concourses.
The intent is for them to get stuck to people’s shoes when stepped on. When the sticker is noticed and peeled off, the flipside is revealed carrying messages such as “Don’t step on our rights” and “Step up for equality” as correlative wordplay.
The visual language of the outcomes use bold bright colors to go with the theme of empowerment, along with black and yellow to echo BLM movement aesthetics.
The motifs draw on minority culture visual languages to decolonise what is accepted as “standard good design” in western media, and for emotional solidarity and reassurance to affected individuals.
Similar stickers as a part of this guerrilla campaign were positioned at handrails, and near public elevator buttons with similar calls to action like “stop holding on to stereotypes” and “push for change” for their respective locations.
Black History Month 2020
and Subsequent Reporting
References: Analog+ Digital Cardan Grille by Amy Suo Wu