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Overcoming emotional barriers with graphic design exhibit

Part of an image from the You are Not Alone exhibit at Rachel Cooper Gallery at Illinois State University.

Crowds of people looking at graphic designs.

A crowd admires the You are Not Alone exhibit at the opening reception. Image from the Graphic Design Program at Illinois State University.

A new graphic design exhibit on the second floor of Rachel Cooper Hall began as a form of catharsis for student artists to overcome social and emotional barriers.

The exhibit, You are Not Alone, runs until May 4 in the Rachel Cooper Gallery at University Street.

Created by students in an Art 336: Graphic Design course, Professor Archana Shekara conceived of the exhibit after students began sharing frank conversations in the classroom about family, health, and social pressures. “I felt the need to assign a project that addressed these issues collectively in the classroom,” said Shekara. Calling it a “social design project,” Shekara asked students to write and share their personal stories, then represent their emotions visually.

Shekara noted this is the first time she has assigned this type of personal exhibit for the class, which she has taught for six years. “Graphic design is seen as an applied and service-oriented profession, and students are expected to learn to create pretty pictures that promote client’s campaigns that bring commercial success,” she said, adding that these designs tend to avoid the broader purpose of engagement. “Design is a philosophy of life where designers have to empathize and respect the diversity of people they serve. The greater purpose of design is to address society’s problems and be a visual voice.”

You Are Not Alone is supported by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. Director Alison Bailey called the exhibit “moving” and said she was awed at the students’ courage and strength. “They were able to express a radical vulnerability about issues in their lives that created affective and political barriers for them,” said Bailey, adding that viewers can feel how the students use art “to liberate themselves from pains associated with addiction, bullying, body policing, depression, being closeted, combat, and silencing.”

For additional information on You Are Not Alone, contact Shekara at ashekar@ilstu.edu.

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