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Interview at L'Officiel Argentina (December 2018 issue) about design and feminism

(L'Officiel Argentina) When did you find the link between design and feminism?

(Anil Aykan) It took me a long time to understand graphic design could be used for non commercial purposes, my education and the graphic design profession in Turkey were very commercially oriented. Soon after i entered university, the truth slapped me in my face and it drew me away from the profession in the first years of my studies, therefore most of the time i found myself in the college library, reading to understand more about the context of design. I came across at that time two works that made me realize for the first time that graphic design is a powerful tool that could be used to question the status quo and create a political and social impact.

One of these was an artwork by Barbara Kruger with the title “Your Body is a Battleground”, it is three separate panels with text on top of black and white photograph of a vertically split female face. This artwork was distributed as a leaflet at the Women’s March in Washington in 1989 after a string of anti-abortion laws, it became an outcry for hundreds of women. This artwork spoke to me in many levels as growing up as a female in Turkey has never been easy. I believe this work is still very relevant and it made me realize the power of a piece of design.

The other work was the graphics of Guerrilla Girls, especially the very famous “Do Women Have to be Naked to get into the Met Museum” poster, it is a very provocative piece of design. The guerrilla masks and the naked female body create a juxtaposition and the direct question challenging the one of the most established museums. This work affected me greatly, because after entering the university it didn’t took long time i released graphic design was a very male biased profession – at the college the most important lectures such as design projects were all conducted by male tutors.

(L'Officiel Argentina) When and why did you start researching design's role in the feminist cause? What did you find that called your attention?

(Anil Aykan) I have a special interest in the era between the the late 19th century and early 20th century when society was transformed with technological innovations, a time when empires clashed under the world war causing great social change. This produced some of the most interesting, radical art and design. Also a very important competent in thinking about constructions of modernity the “New Woman” was born in this period, a feminist ideal that emerged in different parts of the world simultaneously and had a profound influence on feminism and the society.

For these women writing, designing and printing were not only the appropriate ways of being heard and getting attention; it also created a new type of professional and independent women who were creative and skillful. I found this as an extremely important part in the emancipation of women. It is still very relevant today, because at the end it is about the “Woman Question” —the status of women, their education, labor, political participation, sexuality and bodies— our own fundamental questions which can’t be left to men to discuss and decide – we need to be writers, thinkers, painters and printers and designers to be heard.

A very good example is the Suffragettes in the UK, these militant women conducted an incredible fight to gain the vote and left a great legacy from which we have lots to learn from today. We should, as they did 100 years ago, reconstruct our political beliefs and political landscape of our time, reinvent the visual language, tools, formats, and find new ways to voice an opposition to a male dominant society.

(L'Officiel Argentina) What do you think design contributes to the feminist cause and vice versa?

(Anil Aykan) Design is an empowering profession when used to its full potential. Here i would like to emphasise, design is not just the end product, it is a process to create dialogue, to express thought, an opportunity for collaboration, a skill and finally a profession to gain capital – a means of economic freedom. You can clearly see this in women’s unions and movements. For example the Artist Suffrage League and Suffrage Atelier in the UK, established by women in 1910s to support the woman suffrage movement. Also The Victoria Press, established by Emily Faithfull in 1860 in London, to promote employment of women – she learned typesetting, founded the press and employed many women. Despite the hostility from the male dominant printing professionals, they were active for many years, publishing the feminist periodical English Woman's Journal. Another example from 1970s is the See Red Women's Workshop, a feminist silkscreen poster collective founded in London, by three former art students to combat sexist images of women and to create positive and challenging alternative visuals.

Design professionals have many things to learn from feminism – a new inclusive language is needed that is none discriminatory, that does not use sexist or racial stereotypes and treat all equally. It should instead be working towards a dialogue and empowerment.

(L'Officiel Argentina) Name three designers that inspire you

(Anil Aykan) First, Zuzana Licko, an award winning typeface designer from California. With her husband Rudy Vanderlans, in 1984 she founded the innovative design company Emigre. Her self published magazine and experimental font designs have been a great inspiration since i was a student. She was one of the first established female type designers I had heard of who had her own unique visual language. Second, Corita Kent, California based radical nun, graphic designer, political activist – these three roles together are quite a unique mix! She used screenprinting to create works of song lyrics, the bible and literature to spread a message of love and hope. Throughout the1960s her work became more political and less religious. She tackled poverty, injustice and racism. Her legacy is still very relevant today. Finally Morag Myerscough comes to my mind, London based graphic designer, she created a visual display at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Crafts this year to accompany the retrospective exhibition of Corita Kent. I find her work very brave in terms of using the bold colours, shapes and scales. Morag works on a lot of community projects – the keyword is ‘community’ for me, for example the work she did for the wards of Sheffield Children’s Hospital in England which is very positive and inspirational.

Corita Kent, 1964

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