September 21, 2022
The 21st of September marks the international day of peace. And you don’t have to look too far to see the historical influence that the visual arts have had in supporting this great cause.
To kick off our new ‘Curious Culture’ series, we’ve curated three iconic pieces of work and question why they have been so successful in inspiring our communities, helping to bring about social change.
We start at probably the most recognised symbol of them all. Designed by Gerald Holtam for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958, the mark is composed of a circle, containing vertical lines that represent the semaphore signal for the letter N & D. The internal structure also cleverly silhouettes the posture of a person in dismay, hands by their side, questioning the decision for nuclear. Since then, the symbol has been adopted by many, becoming the go-to mark synonymous with the topic of peace.
A cultural signifier, the symbol has been reimagined within multiple contexts to appeal to different audiences. In 2015, Parisian artist Jean Jullien drew similarities between the symbol and the Eiffel Tower to stand in solidarity with those affected by terrorist attacks in the French capital. The power of the mark resides in its simplicity in form, allowing it to easily adapt to new surroundings. Its monolinear structure requires little translation, with its visual connotations to signs of warning and attention. Whilst the circle outline brings about a calmness and sense of safety, creating a beautiful tension, reflective of the experiential fight for peace.
We cannot talk about the significance of the use of typography without the mention of the early 20th century march for women's rights, most notably seen in the suffragette movement. Multitudes of banners and placards branded boldly with declarations of solidarity, hope and a call for equality. Most often hand rendered, these ink-inscribed wooden tablets and beautifully woven fabrics would reflect the personal efforts for the fight for social peace by these heroic women. It was quite literally a sign of things to come.
Stylistically, its unapologetic approach, using heavyweight black letterforms contrasting against white canvases allowed the messages to be read loud and clear. Even to this day, the style has become synonymous with social marches. An example such as the Extinction Rebellion campaign, which used large black lettering against highly contrasted colour backdrops, allowed their environmental conscious message to disrupt the natural surroundings and cut through the noise of the bustling city. Whether intentional or coincidental, the Suffragette movement created a medium that reflected the desired outcome, to make a mark on history.
Renowned for his social-political commentaries, Bansky has played a major role in the public domain in engaging with important issues through the use of thought-provoking art. One of which, ‘The Flower Thrower’, made an immediate impact for its provocative use of symbolism. Appearing in Bethlehem shortly after the construction of the West Bank Wall, it depicts a Palestinian man throwing a bouquet. The posture and clothing of the man denote a stance commonly associated with a rioter, with the object intended for destruction instead replaced with a symbol of commemoration and love. This contrast is further emphasised by the use of colour strictly reserved for the flowers, suggesting where life emanates. The political tensions meant many were caught in the crossfire, and this image serves as a stark reminder of the power of influence we have over other people’s lives. It challenges our notion of what is worth fighting for.
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