Featured photo by Ara Howrani
Our movements need more images! Social justice organizers have a wide visual vocabulary of protest — raised fists, barbed wire, marchers holding placards — but should we not also depict the world we are building in addition to the forces we’re resisting? How can we communicate concepts we hold dear; concepts like beloved community, allyship, and consent?
The Vision Archive, a project initiated by And Also Too, brought together designers, artists, advocates, and community organizers to co-create images for the world we want to build. Visionarchive.io (active from 2014 to 2017) was like a “Github for visionary social justice images,” allowing users to upload images so other users can download and remix them and upload their new creations.
The Vision Archive was conceived in 2014. As designers working within social movements, we were concerned by some of the trends we were noticing in movement imagery. On the one hand, clipart of raised fists and barbed wire had become visual shorthand for community organizing. On the other hand, some organizations were leaning towards more a more “professional” i.e. bland aesthetic in the hopes of seeming more credible to funders. We worried that these aesthetic directions did not do justice to the visionary work that organizers do.
Knowing that what we see shapes what we believe is possible, we felt a need to shift the visual culture of social movements. What if social movement imagery were visionary in addition to being critical? And what if it were created by organizers and community members to reflect the world they are working towards?
In May 2014, Una Lee led the first “design justice jam” and through a series of participatory activities facilitated 24 activists and artists in the creation of the first set of visionary icons. This was followed by a workshop a year later, for Mayworks 2015. Later that summer, Una teamed up with designer/scholar Gracen Brilmyer, front end developer Jeff Debutte, and backend developer Alex Leitch to build visionarchive.io to house the icons.
A pivotal moment in the co-design process was a story retreat we hosted in Toronto. And Also Too gathered with Feathers of Hope staff, writer Elton Beardy, and illustrator Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush to create storyboards for each graphic novel. At this moment, the stories — which had previously just been ideas on sticky notes — suddenly came to life.
Detroit, Allied Media Conference, June 2017
Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation, Regent Park, June 2016
Berkeley, School of Information, UC Berkeley, March 2016
Brewster, NY, Creative Solutions Symposium, August 2015
Toronto, Mayworks, May 2015
Toronto, Bento Miso, May 2014
And Also Too no longer maintains visionarchive.io, however we continue to use the facilitation techniques we developed for the Vision Archive. See the Hairstory project for an example of this.