Empowering Women

Graphic design exhibit addresses gender inequality at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design.

On a sky-blue background, two male figures seem poised to fly off the top of the poster. Near the bottom, a female figure, her leg shackled by a ball and chain, is tethered to the poster’s lowest corner, clearly unable to rise.

Polish artist Sebatian Kubica entitled his 2005 work “Gender Equality” to address the still-unresolved issues of women’s inequality in the home and in the workplace. It’s one of 80 posters in a powerful new graphic design exhibition, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” which is on view at The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design.

The term “women’s right are human rights” was used as early as the 1830s, but was famously coined in a speech by Hilary Clinton in 1995 when she said, “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 affect the women who raise the world’s children, care for the elderly, run companies, work in hospitals, fight for better education and better health care.”

“Nurture Women’s Voices” is the message on a flowerpot for a poster by Iranian artist Parisa Tashakori. Each flower stem is topped by a female mouth, denoting that the notion of women’s rights can have different meanings in different countries. Tashakori believes that women’s voices must be nurtured to encourage them to speak out and advocate for their basic human rights in their own communities.

Originally curated by Elizabeth Resnick, professor emerita of graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, the exhibition was conceived to address the gender inequalities that remain deeply entrenched in every society. In her curatorial statement, Resnick cited women’s lack of access to decent work and that they face occupational segregation and gender wage disparities. She says women are often denied access to basic education and health care, suffer from violence and discrimination, and are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes.

Mission-driven programming

The Branch Museum’s Deputy Director Heather Ernst saw the exhibition as aligning perfectly with the museum’s mission. “It showcases the profound impact of design in communicating social issues, inspiring individuals to engage with the cause, and highlighting the role of design in fostering equity and beauty,” she explains. “By addressing this critical topic, it encourages conversations, raises awareness, and empowers communities to work towards a more equitable and productive future through the lens of design.”

Culturally familiar, a series of three posters created by DDB Dubai for UN Women Egypt, was designed to draw attention to the lack of women in the Egyptian workforce, which is only 23% female. With a nod to the children’s classic “Where’s Waldo?” the three posters, “Finding Women in Science/Technology/Politics Shouldn’t Be This Hard,” illustrate the primarily male-dominated industry workplaces with only one woman to be found among the scores of males in working environments. Finding Waldo never felt so telling.

The exhibition consists of works created between 1999 and 2023 on issues that range from reproductive rights to voting, domestic violence to fair treatment in the workplace and trafficking. Ernst says the exhibition features work that speaks to the idea that everyone has a role to play in the fight for human rights. The back wall is devoted to posters of icons -RBG, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Rosa Parks, Audra Lorde and Amanda Gorman- a reminder of how impactful a woman’s vice can be.

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” also features author Frances Crutchfield’s recorded voice reading her poem “Ode to the ERA” in the center gallery and a continuous showing of the documentary “Some American Feminists” in the chapel.

Additional programming

Programming around the exhibition is extensive and will involve organizations who work to empower and protect women. There will be a zine workshop with Empower RVA Teens through the YWCA and a print day with Studio Two Three. An evening screening of the film “Miss Representation” will look at how the media shapes our view of women.

A series called Coffee and Conversation will feature some of Richmond’s most creative women leading discussions around their experiences as innovative forces in their respective design fields. The January Coffee and Conversations will be with Safe Harbor, in conjunction with Human Trafficking Prevention Month. “Our goal for programming during this exhibition is to offer a space where a variety of topics can take place,” Ernst says. “We want to stimulate vital conversations, include community partnership, and provide impactful resources regarding women’s rights.”

Created for the Seattle women’s march, it’s Robynne Raye’s bright yellow and deceptively simple poster that perhaps best sums up the Branch’s important new exhibit: “I am woman, hear me roar.”

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights” through Feb. 17 at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, 2501 Monument Avenue. Branchmuseum.org


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