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Datebook: Provacative Posters At IWU Highlight Women's Rights

At the start of the new semester at Illinois Wesleyan University, Carmen Lozar was faced with a quandary. 

As the director of galleries at IWU, Lozar schedules the exhibitions that go on view at the Merwin, Wakely and Atrium galleries. But the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the large Merwin Gallery being roped off for a socially distanced student work area. Lozar needed a show that could be safely displayed in the open Atrium Gallery--safely both from the standpoint of the pandemic and for security reasons. 

“I couldn’t have artwork that couldn’t be locked and closed,” Lozar explained. 

With the secure Wakely Gallery featuring antique Japanese wood block prints from the school’s permanent collection, Lozar set out to find an exhibition that could be safely shown in a non-secure area, while also making an impact on gallery visitors. Lozar turned to “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” a collection that had been featured a few years earlier.  

The exhibition is a collection of posters from around the world that shine a spotlight on issues of violence and discrimination faced by women. The posters on view are not originals, but reprints. 

“We had the files and we could reprint them if they got damaged or taken,” Lozar said.  

The show is a timely fit for another reason, as well, highlighting issues that women around the world struggle with on a daily basis. The women’s rights and advocacy posters express images and ideas that some might find deeply disturbing. 

And that’s the point. 

“This is serving as a great reminder,” said Lozar. “Causing us to be aware. Sometimes, we let things slip through our consciousness, and we say we’re not going to talk about that or think about that. 

“These posters do a wonderful job. They’re highlighting issues of domestic violence, wage disparity, voting rights. These posters are from around the world and from cultures that we don’t necessarily interact with or see on a daily basis. So, our problems with wage disparity or domestic abuse may be different from other cultures' women's rights issues. 

“That widens our global perspective, looking at these other problems around the world.” 

The posters promote women’s empowerment and can feature some disturbing imagery. Yet, the majority are bright and colorful--all the better to lure the viewer in. 

 “So, designers have taken the problem of women's rights issues and portrayed them in some colors that will draw you in,” Lozar said. “And then you look at the message.” 

There’s a particular series of provocative posters that greatly impressed Lozar. 

“It’s called, “The Abused Goddess” and has a series of Indian goddesses that have suffered domestic abuse, yet they are still in full regalia, sitting on a lotus or sitting in this serene way," she said. "That is from a design company called Taproot Dentsu in Mumbai, India.” 

“To look at the absolute gorgeous colors and the flourishes of creativity on those, it draws you in and then you notice that the goddess has a black eye. They are really powerful posters.” 

These posters can really make an impact, said Lozar, because we live in a world dominated by images.  

“We live in a visual culture. You look at Facebook and Instagram--we are looking at images, all day long. Many of these posters have text, but we are living in this visual culture right now. And so, these posters have images that are very eye-catching--they are speaking, they are making us stop and think. I think it creates a great amount of dialogue.” 

Lozar’s student staff assisted with setting up the show last week, and she gave them a lot of latitude in selecting what images go up and where they should be displayed. The results impressed Lozar. 

“We had 70 posters to choose from. They had to narrow it down to 32. It was very interesting to watch a young group of students to go through and find the posters that they felt were most important to speak of right now,”  she said.

“They chose many of the hard-hitting posters. I felt that they were choosing the posters that were possibly the hardest for me to look at or deal with. And they put those posters in prominent displays. 

“Which tells me that this is a group of students who don’t want us to look away from these things. They’re ready to confront these things, acknowledge them and try to work.

“I’m proud that they chose the posters that they did.” 

“Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” continues in the Atrium Gallery in the Ames School of Art at IWU in Bloomington.


But wait! There's more....Carmen Lozar talks about the Japanese wood block print show that's also running at the galleries.


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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.