Design and the Abortion Debate

Columnists and casual conversationalists alike are obsessed with the issue of a woman's control over her body; all shout their opinions on the topic, but very little real dialogue emerges from the chaos of the debate. The terrorist tactics of groups like Operation Rescue who barricade abortion clinics, the people who try to shout them down and especially the gag rule imposed on physicians, all prevent rational discussion.

The result has been extreme polarization which makes even those who know where they stand on choice fearful of voicing their opinions. the debate has degenerated to the point that even the vocal and the outspoken are at a loss for words.

Graphic designer Francie Randolph '88 has subverted the verbal confusion by using silent but effective images to examine the issue.

The stark graphics she presents in "Visions of Choice," a poster series exhibition opening at 5:30 on Friday, October 30, at Lehman Hall in Dudley House, force the viewer to question his or her views on the right of a woman to control her body. Synthesizing her experience as a designer with the country's collective consciousness has allowed Randolph to create work that resonates both visually and intellectually.

The show represents the culmination of four months of work for Randolph, a teaching assistant at the Graduate School of Design who graduated from the V.E.S. department of Harvard four years ago. Angered by "the government's interference with and lack of respect for the female mind and body," Randolph realized that her role as a graphic designer was "to create visuals that communicated a message." At the same time, Randolph's goal was to make the audience "interact with the design, so that there's a reward in looking closer."

Her images are bold, daring and sometimes shocking, but each contains a subtleelement to provide that reward. A visually simpleposter containing only text that declares "Choice:A Woman's Right." As the viewer examines theposter, however, the H and O metamorphose into afemale sign, which reinforces Randolph's point.

The others are more complex. Onearresting poster depicts the black silhouette of apregnant woman with her head buried in her arms.Nestled in her stomach, an egg painted with thedesign of the American flag emphasizes thecaption, "Whose internal affair is it?"

Another, which reads more like an ad slogan("Don't hang up choice"), presents a new versionof the flag draped over a wire hanger: whitefemale signs have replaced the stars, and the redstripes drip blood. The not so-subtle imagerecalls the back-alley horror stories thatprecipitated the legalization of abortion in 1973.

Randolph has been working with graphics indiffering capacities for a long time. Aftergraduating from Harvard, she travelled to Papua,New Guinea on a Radcliffe fellowship to documentindigenous two-dimensional design.

Randolph chose Papua, New Guinea because thediversity of language, culture, and, mostimportantly for Randolph, design, is among thehighest in the world. The island is populated bymany small groups who have historically beengeographically isolated from each other and theoutside world. Randolph visited the communities tostudy their two-dimensional designs.

After immersing herself in indigenous art,Randolph moved to Sydney, Australia to look for ajob, and found herself in a different environment.She switched over to the business side of design,working first as a graphic designer for acorporation in Sydney and then returning to theStates to start her own corporate identity designfirm. In both jobs, she designed all manner ofads, logos and corporate images.

But, Randolph says, the work level became"manic." And although her company was lucrative,the hotel brochures she produced were "marketdriven, and not very creative." She is quick topraise the benefits of corporate design, but"having studied how design can interact withculture in Papua, New Guinea," says Randolph, "Iwas quickly disillusioned with the corporateworld."

Although she still maintains her corporateimage company and her involvement in a clothingdesign firm, Randolph has shifted her focus to apurer form of graphic design. She has returned toHarvard, where "teaching is allowing me to pay myrent so I can work on the graphic design Ichoose."

Her decision was to use image to publicizechoice. It's a technique which the right-to-lifershave made a central part of their campaign bydepicting fetuses to shock viewers into agreement,while pro-choice images lacked such visual power.Finding the existing pro-choice visualsdissatisfying Randolph started sketching. Herposters emerged from her hundreds of drawings.

Combining the sophistication of art with theaccessibility of advertising, the images areextremely effective, as the general response hasdemonstrated. The National Organization for Womenhas expressed interest in exhibiting Randolph'swork in conjunction with film festivals, andPlanned Parenthood has also been responsive. Thedesigns can also be mass produced on buttons.B-10