Designer, design educator and curator Elizabeth Resnick is no stranger to successful socio-political poster exhibitions. This year she launches her next poster exhibition on the theme “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights”. The exhibition showcases over 60 posters created by both men and women to celebrate and acknowledge the vital role that all citizens should play in protecting and promoting human rights while challenging gender inequality and stereotypes, advancing sexual and reproductive rights, protecting women and girls against brutality, and promoting women’s empowerment and participation in society. Elizabeth speaks about Women’s and human rights and her exhibition.
How did you decide to start exhibitions on the theme “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”?
As you know Maria, I have curated three socio-political poster exhibitions over the past decade: The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice and The Environment 1965–2005 (with co-curators Chaz Maviyane-Davies and Frank Baseman), followed by Graphic Intervention: International AIDS Awareness Posters 1985–2010 (with co-curator Javier Cortés) and Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age 2001–2012, which was actually conceived as a large coffee table book, but manifested into a large poster exhibition instead.
In 2014, was contacted by Pam Steele, Boston ambassador of ‘Women for Women International’, an organization whose programs provide women in war and conflict areas with job training, health education and rights awareness. Pam wanted to organize a poster exhibition based on some of the posters in ‘Graphic Advocacy’ for the upcoming International Women’s Day celebration that happens on March 8 every year. Rather than try to organize a targeted exhibition with ‘Graphic Advocacy’ posters, I thought creating a new exhibition the subject of ‘Women’s Rights’ could be easily research and explored.
What does the theme title means to you, as a woman yourself and as a designer?
The title “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” is borrowed from a famous speech Hillary Clinton made in 1995 at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. In her speech Clinton suggests that “if the term women’s rights were to be interchangeable with the term human rights the world community would be a better place because human rights effect the women who raise the world’s children, care for the elderly, run companies, work in hospitals, right for better education and better health care.”
I am a women; a wife and mother to a son and daughter; a designer, a design educator, an author and a curator. I am in a position to be a role model to others, and I take this responsibility quite seriously.
What makes you more furious regarding women’s rights? The sad reality is that after the great strides for full-fledged women’s rights over many years, women and girls around the world are still facing severe issues (trafficking, voting access, fair treatment in the workplace, violence, early marriage etc). What do you think we can do to finally put an end to that?
In order to attempt an answer to this question, I must to refer to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. All ‘movements’ seek to bring attention to the inequities in our global community, to end all injustices, to make a better place for all humans to live in. In my life, I have witnessed significant shifts in attitude in contemporary society toward: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, transgender rights, religious tolerance; but still there is much work to do and more advancement is desperately needed in all areas of human rights.
Do you consider an artist’s activism as a change agent regarding women’s rights?
Artist activism in its many forms, including exhibitions like “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” can focus attention to pressing issues that are not always at the forefront of our societies. My exhibitions are conceived and created for young people, students, and those beginning their careers. I wish to empower our young people to fight for what they believe in.
What do you think about women as designers? Would you distinguish them from men and in what ways?
When I started my career as a designer it was overwhelmingly a man’s profession. Young women were treated like assistants no matter how talented they were or what they brought to the table. Design history is chockablock with men who took credit for the work that women designers did under their watch, because men were always in charge, they were the ‘bosses,’ and the women were the silent partners. Even today, this exists, although many of our young women will not stay in such situations for very long. After a couple of years working in hierarchical situations, I decided to open my own studio and gain independence for myself.
At the outset of this new project, I invited two International women designers to co-curate with me. They were both firm in their belief that we should collect only posters designed by women. I thought of all the terrific work I had seen by male poster designers that I would want in this exhibition. The whole concept of limiting the collection to women only didn’t ring true for me. The three of us decided to part ways, which was, for me, the best outcome. I know in my gut what story I want to tell.
Have your rights ever been violated specifically because you are a woman?
Of course. It would be foolish of me to state that my rights haven’t been violated given I have been a working professional for over 40 years. In the area of equal pay, in the United States, women professors earn less than their male counterparts. Women professors did not make the same amount of money as male professors. Period. Although there have been grand attempts to fix this situation, I was simply paid less than my male colleagues for over 30 years. I can say the same for paid design positions.
Which do you believe are the ideal countries for such an exhibition to travel to?
Anywhere there are women and men who coexist. That would be most everywhere on Earth!
Curator’s statement for “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights”
“Women’s Rights Are Human Rights:
International Posters advocating an end to gender-based inequity, violence and discrimination.”
Organized and curated by Elizabeth Resnick
“Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” is a very fitting title for an exhibition of Women’s rights and advocacy posters, as it is a term used in the women’s rights movement and was the title of an important speech given by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. In her speech, Hillary Clinton suggests that “if the term ‘women’s rights’ were to be interchangeable with the term ‘human rights’ the world community would be a better place because human rights effect the women who raise the world’s children, care for the elderly, run companies, work in hospitals, right for better education and better health care.”
Yet gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society. Women lack access to decent work and face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps. They are too often denied access to basic education and health care. Women in all parts of the world suffer violence and discrimination. They are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes.
In many cultures women have very little control over their own bodies, with female sexuality being largely controlled and defined by men in patriarchal societies. Sexual violence committed by men is often rooted in ideologies of male sexual entitlement, and these systems grant women very few legitimate options to refuse sexual advances. This entitlement can take different forms, depending on the culture. Human rights and women’s rights are violated every single day as the rape and brutality of women is used as an instrument of armed conflict. Women and children make up a large majority of the world’s refugees. And when women are excluded from the political process, they become even more vulnerable to abuse.
This exhibition features over 60 posters created by both men and women to celebrate and acknowledge the vital role that all citizens should play in protecting and promoting human rights while challenging gender inequality and stereotypes, advancing sexual and reproductive rights, protecting women and girls against brutality, and promoting women’s empowerment and participation in society. These poster images challenge religious and cultural norms and patriarchal attitudes that subordinate, stigmatize or restrict women from achieving their fullest potential; these images argue for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, empowerment of women, and achievement of equality between women and men that fosters societal stability and human dignity.
The exhibition will have its official premiere in the President’s Gallery at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, Massachusetts, September 26 – October 29, 2016. A smaller selection of the posters will be on display at the Bienal Internacional Del Cartel En México, being held in San Luis Potosi, September-October 2016. A special advance showing of this exhibition was held at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, Taiwan in May 2016.
This unframed exhibition is available to travel internationally for a small rental fee. Please contact Elizabeth Resnick ([email protected]) to inquire about the availability of the exhibition for educational institutions, conferences, festivals and seminars.