Genocide prevention: the power of graphic design

Monday 18 May 2015

Willhemina Wahlin_The RescuersCharles Sturt University (CSU) lecturer Willhemina Wahlin is using her skills as a graphic designer to give a voice to minority groups and facilitate international cultural change.

Ms Wahlin, from the School of Communication and Creative Industries in Port Macquarie, is preparing to present at the 13th Annual Meeting of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (ISGS) in Yerevan, Armenia, in July.

"The meeting will be in Yerevan to mark 100 years since the Armenian genocide. Some consider it to be the first genocide of the 20th Century, and argue it had a significant effect on other genocides that followed," Ms Wahlin said.

Ms Wahlin has been designing for the non-profit organisation PROOF: Media for Social Justice since 2009 and will be presenting about the exhibition 'The Rescuers'. She will be presenting alongside Executive Director of PROOF and former Fellow of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University, Ms Leora Kahn.

"'The Rescuers' is a unique exhibition that tells the story of genocide through the experiences of people who saved lives instead of taking them," Ms Wahlin said.

"Genocide is global phenomenon and yet in Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe and Cambodia, there were those who chose to rescue people from the threat of violence and death."

Ms Wahlin believes representing those stories as visual media can be an incredibly challenging process for designers.

"I realised pretty early on that working on projects like this demand a whole different level of responsibility," Ms Wahlin said.

"People have entrusted their stories to you, and you have to find the best possible way to visually present them to exhibition visitors. It's from this work that I was inspired to research this field."

Ms Wahlin is excited about the impact 'The Rescuers' has had in many of the regions it has travelled to, especially in post-conflict regions like Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it has been travelling under the name 'Ordinary Heroes', a project that was awarded the United Nations Intercultural Award in 2014.

"'The Rescuers' has travelled to 13 cities and towns so far in the Balkan region, including Srebrenica, the site of one of the worst massacres of the Bosnian War," Ms Wahlin said.

"The response from communities has been extremely positive. The impact of this is huge for people living in post-conflict regions like Bosnia, because it highlights how all kinds of people can be upstanders in the face of violence, and that we all have a part to play in preventing genocide."

Ms Wahlin believes graphic designers and other artists have the power to become storytellers and contribute to the recording of history as well as the foundations of the future.

"As graphic designers we are in a privileged position to be able to listen to stories, gather information and translate them into a visual language that raises awareness and inspires change," Ms Wahlin said.

"I want to inspire graphic design students too, and to show them that graphic design can have a deep and lasting impact within social and cultural change."

Ms Wahlin is part of CSU's Creative Regions Lab. Her research focuses on the practice of designing the typographical content of exhibitions that centre on 'difficult knowledge' topics, and act as mechanisms for raising awareness of social justice issues.


Media contact: Hannah Guilfoyle, 0417 125 795

Media Note:

Willhemina Wahlin is available for interviews. Please contact CSU Media for more information.