Here is the interview with Alina Rodríguez Martín during the design conference Trimarchi in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The interview is about the Suffragettes, and role of design in social and political change.
ARM: Why did you first tackled an investigation about the feminist struggles and the design? AA: Because it is fascinating to observe how the basic and best qualities of design profession became alive during the feminist struggle – there are many lessons to learn from this togetherness. For example design is simply a tool to be seen and heard; to discuss an issue, put out a statement, ask a question, create a reaction, chance the statuesque… Putting up a poster in the streets or simply chalking the payments is the simplest thing to do, but you have to be creative and innovative with your resources. When “the woman question” gained an increasing urgency in the early 20th century, in order to discuss the status of women, their education, labor, political participation, sexuality and bodies, women became thinkers, writers, painters, printers and designers. Design is not just a product, it is a process to cultivate and display intellect, an opportunity for collaboration, social work and, a way to display skills and a profession to gain capital, which means economical freedom. You can clearly see design served for this purposes on many occasions in women’s unions and movements. Working with design is very good answer to the question asked by the founder of the Artists’ Suffrage League (ASL) Mary Lowndes “How many times have women been reminded - in season and out of season, in conversation, by platform speakers, in print – that their sex has produced no Michelangelo, and that Raphael was a man?”
ARM: What were the most relevant aspects of the investigation? What made you start with the research The Suffragettes? AA: I have a special interest in the era between the the late 19th century and early 20th century when society was transformed with technological innovation, a time when empires clashed under the world war causing great social change. This produced some of the most interesting, radical art and design. The Suffragettes also, one of the militant organisations campaigning for Women’s Suffrage were one of the leading groups which reconstructed the politics of this time. When i came to the UK four years ago, one of the first things struck me in this country was the self-empowered stance of women, not just the new generation but it seems to me it was a long won fight. It wasn’t long after i came across many information about this long history of emancipation. What drew me to Suffragettes (in particular the militant women of the Women’s Social and Political Union) was, not only they transformed their political landscape of their time but they also created related visual language and even new tools in order to channel it, while doing this they used what they were familiar with, they subverted the language of the middle class in order to place their objectives at the heart of the household. They acted in a uniquely female way; voicing opposition to a male dominant society. We can trace the modern protest design directly back to the Suffragettes. Today, design activism becomes more popular each day. Digital technology offers more creative ways of protest with powerful graphic languages emerging as a response to current financial and political crises. I believe this can be traced directly back to the Suffragettes.
ARM: Do you know the story of who made the image of the woman with the handkerchief and the arm? AA: You must mean “We Can Do It!”! poster, which was created by Howard Miller as a WWII war effort, in order to boost women workers morale. This strong image became popular in 1980s and since then has been used to promote feminism and interpreted in many different ways. This poster symbolises to me how the perception of women changed during WWI and WWII – a shortage of male workers gave an opportunity for women to show they could work in all areas of life for which they were at the time seen as inadequate. There is a discussion in the UK that women were given vote after the WWI as a reward for all the efforts they put during the war. I see this point very good in terms of “Yes, We can do it if not supressed” however it shouldn’t give the impression that the suffrage movement was useless in the journey of gaining the vote. Instead i would say women were simply ready to play an important part in all areas of society and politics, the scarcity of the war created an opportunity to show it. ARM: Since the debate that took place in Argentina on the legalization of abortion, signs like green or orange scarves emerged to demand a separate State from the Church. What is the importance of the colors in the design? AA: Colours affect us deeply, they are archetypal, rooted in our collective subconscious. In design, colour triggers an emotion, influences thinking, changes actions, and even causes reaction. However you can’t ‘own’ a colour, (no matter how much a brand with try) because it regenerates itself with a new meaning as soon as you use in different medium and context. In protest, colour has an important immediate, unifying role – the green scarf signalling the green light for abortion law in Latin America is a good example of this. Colours are powerful, embodied with belief, opinions and hope, they are as important as the message - through them you can understand support for a message without it being repeated outright.
ARM: Which project’s are you working in currently? AA: At the moment i am working on several book projects all with very interesting contents; one book is about magic, paranormal, and illusion - i am fascinated about how the desire people have to believe in such things, both for entertainment and when dealing with mortality. Another projects is an identity and series of books for an Artist’s books publisher in Milan. In it i can examine the use of language typography and experiment with the different materials that are used in making a book. However the most important project now is my partner’s and I’s electronic band ‘Fragile Self’. Popular music has always been a great medium for bringing the experimental into the mainstream and within it we are exploring our own visual and musical obsessions in a very pure, uncompromising form. It has been a way of discussing how we express and understand human beings, but also work with the magic of music to emotionally affect people.
ARM: What are your expectations for the TMDG event? AA: I expect TMDG to be highly energetic, young and open, which welcomes everybody to share ideas, learn, exchange, have fun and celebrate. A serious atmosphere but not intimidating. I am looking forward to learning more about the culture and people as well as the art, design and music scene in Argentina.