“With protest and design, rhetoric or linguistics around movements can be alienating so you need to make it accessible.”
The past twelve to eighteen months has seen a steadily accelerating campaign in favour of changing abortion rights in Ireland. While these efforts have been underpinned by long-running grass-roots activism, a new generation of designers and commissioners of design have brought awareness and debate to new audiences.
The campaign is in equal parts emotive and political and the design outcomes associated to it have reflected this. They range from planned, considered and strategic campaigns to more instinctual and immediate manifestations. For each of those types of response, elements of the other exist. The sum of this has been the creation of a compelling platform for political design that challenges not only accepted rules but also accepted notions of the role that design might play in the realm of modern-day Irish political action.
Andrea Horan of The Hunreal Issues has commissioned work which bridges the gap between the intentional and the instinctive. She has used her own background in marketing and PR to create impact through design in the process. The Hunreal Issues is a platform which seeks to take issues to a new audience that is not engaged with politics as it stands. Her starting point was frustration with the communication around the issue.
“I was passionate about the movement, but nothing spoke to me visually … whilst I was affiliated the cause, no campaign was affiliating with me. I wanted to open it up to different audiences. That was very significant for how we approached design and how we communicated in our words.”
“I’ve got 15 years of branding experience, so I know how to package something. I’ve literally just taken that message and packaged it. I haven’t changed the message. I haven’t done anything else. I’m just communicating it in a different way – in a approachable way – to try and make it travel further.”
Working with designer Sarah June Fox, Andrea and a small team have created a solution that speaks to her identified audience (stun huns) and does so in a way that is unique and memorable. “We were conscious that we wanted the logo to look like the masthead of the New York Times. So it’s about politics but it’s also got the ‘glam’. It was kind of merging politics and glam together; taking elements of both.”
In spite of the focus on the core Hunreal Issues campaign, an offshoot project – a street art collaboration with artist Maser – has generated a huge impact in its own right. This is thanks in no small part to the fact that it was removed under protest after objections were raised to it on grounds of planning and city council regulation.
“I asked Al (Maser) ‘Will you do something we can share it on our social media?’. He was like ‘Okay: everything I do is positive so I have to try put a positive spin on it’. He came back with something and there wasn’t that many iterations of it. He sent back the heart and I was like ‘Yeah it’s cute’ and he was like ‘That’s not good’. But I said ‘Cute is deadly, I love it’. His next email was like ‘Find me a wall and I’ll paint it’.”
“It was uplifting and it did engage people. It wasn’t to force something down someone’s throats like ‘‘This is why you need to do it’’. It was to create conversation so you’d see it and either feel supported by it or questioned by it and you’d engage with it.”
“I wanted the art element to it. Art lets you engage with things in a way that you want to. It’s on your terms… Obviously we have an agenda but you get to engage with it how you want to. Whether that’s to take a picture with it or look at it, or respond.”
The debate around the artwork has subsided but by sharing it freely, the work has become a vital touch-point of the campaign in its own right. Now, as the possibility of a referendum on the issue feels more likely, Andrea is focussing back on the core campaign.
“We’re moving into the stage where people are passionate, so how do we get them so they can articulate, to get other people passionate about it? Because I think people know what they’re buying into, they know what they’re supporting, but they don’t have the arguments behind it. So it’s about equipping people with the tools to fill other people in and get them on board.” “We’ll build on what we have. Our content is going to reflect our initial objectives”, she adds.
“The initial stage was just to get a referendum on the cards. Now it’s to get people to understand what’s involved. It’s more descriptive of what’s at stake and what the issues are as opposed to just ‘Repeal the 8th’, which was just ‘we need to get this moving’.”
Roisin Agnew is the editor of Guts magazine — the latest issue of which focuses entirely on the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment, through the work of diverse all-female team of Irish illustrators and writers.
Like Andrea, Roisin wanted to bring a new voice to the discussion. “Something that’s attractive, pop, young, social media-savvy. And that had a bit of a younger voice to it.” The magazine was created from start to finish in an intense three week period. “The idea was to have a display of diversity among women artists and writers. They all have very different approaches to both the writing and the illustration. So you’ve people like like Paul McGloin who kind of does stuff like fabric and stuff and has very feminine floral. And we had Aoife Dooley, and people like Jessica Saunders or even Laura Callaghan who come from a totally different approach.”
Another very visible strand of the campaign is the striking Repeal jumper. This was conceived by Anna Cosgrave, who has used the success of the project to lay plans for the creation of more tools for a broader more directed campaign. The funds from the sale of the product support the Abortion Rights Campaign, but Anna felt the need to operate independently in order to achieve the directness of communication she felt was required.
“Looking at political design and election posters in Ireland, I felt: ‘This is not representative of the mood or the movement and it’s such a pity’. So I knew I wanted it to be really simple and clear and quite kind of bold.”
“I had to do it alone because you can move much faster outside of the confines of hierarchical structures … I knew I had to go the other way … I had met up with other activists and told them I wanted one word, and I was told ‘no’ most of the time. That it was too simplistic and people wouldn’t understand and it wouldn’t be educational. I found that really interesting, because I knew that in order for more people to wear it, or feel able to wear it, it had to be one word.”
“It happened really quickly. I just knew I wanted it to be so simple. I think if things don’t express clarity of purpose it’s very hard for people to feel part of it. This whole thing of black and white worked too: obviously the reasons people have abortions are very complex but the idea of repeal isn’t. Are you choice or anti choice?”
Cosgrave worked with her friend Dargan Crowley-Long, and the whole process was executed very quickly. “I’ve known Anna for years”, he recalls, “and I’d known she’d been involved in and had a really strong interest in this issue but [the implementation of the design] literally happened in a day. She rang me and said ‘I have this idea, can I come over?’, and she rocked over to my house with a super-clear idea of what she wanted. She talked about her feelings around what she wanted to achieve: She said she wanted a piece of clothing that people could wear almost as an awareness piece.”
“The whole idea… it’s such a black and white issue and it’s so obvious for me. Just to even get to the stage of having the conversation of how abortion would happen in Ireland we just have to get over this thing. [The execution] felt so obvious, which is probably good thing.”
The jumpers quickly sold out and have achieved iconic status along the way, arguably setting a tone (or at least a colour palette) for associated activities including the March 8th Strike for Repeal. For Crowley-Long, “it’s wonderful people have taken the really simple idea and started applying it to their own stuff. It’s so much fun see people take your thing and use it in different ways. It’s not the sort of project to be precious about. I made something and I didn’t know – I knew what it was but i didn’t know what it would be. That’s one of the great things about it.”
For Cosgrave the next steps are about taking an awareness effort and elevating it into action. “I’m really interested in the idea of how do you mobilise people or change their behaviours or allow people to become more empathetic and to feel motivated from intention to action. All those people who have re-imaged and re-appropriated it definitely cared about abortion rights already but they didn’t really know how to articulate it.”
“For this to start you had to mobilise an already very liberal majority to then help through money and through visibility to start reaching out to minorities.” “I started off wanting to agitate and for people to be quite angry and for them to be seen in the streets; and through the fuss that that causes then that leads to then you begin to educate. Agitate; educate.”
She is also conscious of the need to open up the debate to a broader audience and to create meaning around making a strong message more welcoming. “I’ve met with political statisticians and data analysts. I’ve looked at analysis of previous abortion rights campaigning in other countries in reference to their rhetoric and what works best. With protest and design, rhetoric or linguistics around movements can be alienating so you need to make it accessible.”
The campaign to repeal the 8th has attracted the attention of a curious international media, which in turn has raised the issue for a diaspora who are returning to an Ireland that is changing in some ways but not in others. Philip Kennedy is an Irish illustrator who has returned to Dublin after time spent living and working in other European cities.
“I’m part of a generation of Irish people who have been living outside of Ireland” he says. “I moved back and felt a sense of responsibility or an impetus to take ownership of the issues that I see in Irish society or Irish culture. All of that entails trying to be a bit more vocal and play more of a part in the things I’d like to see change in the country.”
Kennedy’s response was a zine distributed via social media. Every Month is a striking depiction of 300 female faces – the number of women who travel from Ireland for terminations every 30 days.
“On 8th of March the Strike for Repeal was happening and it was also International Women’s Day and I wanted to find something to occupy my day in a meaningful way. Maybe not even meaningful in a big picture way but meaningful to myself, just to take the time. To do something that feel like I was addressing the issue. That led me to this idea that I could draw the amount of women that travel abroad to get an abortion which is 11 a day they say. Which is 340 a month. Which is 3,500 year. Which is just an unbelievable amount of people having to go abroad. As an illustrator I understand the world through drawing; that’s how I work. It’s an almost meditative thing, if you’re drawing you go into this other state. In drawing 300 women over the space of the day you start to really understand it as a lot more than just a figure or a number. It’s individual lives. And for that to be a process that would take me all of all of international Women’s day felt like a meaningful thing for me to take ownership of it or more responsible for.”
Part of the form chosen by Kennedy is a challenge to ideas about the echo-chamber of social media. “The idea would be to produce a zine so you can actually get things out into the real world. And the internet is a great place for distributing things for free. It was really cool, I put out International Women’s Day and it got a good response and I’ve been hearing from a lot of women who are printing it out and keeping it or giving it out. I had a woman who was at the St Patrick’s Day festival in Turin who was handing out there. It’s cool to put something out into the world that can spread online and also spread in the real world.”
Words: David Wall
Image Credit: Repeal jumper photo by Lisa Connolly