Stories of courage

Groundbreaking work: CSU graphic design lecturer and PROOF creative director Willhemina Wahlin designed an exhibition which calls for greater protections of women and girls in India.

Groundbreaking work: CSU graphic design lecturer and PROOF creative director Willhemina Wahlin designed an exhibition which calls for greater protections of women and girls in India.

A LECTURER at Charles Sturt University in Port Macquarie has played a pivotal role in an exhibition which protests rape in India.

Unearthed: Stories of Courage in the Face of Sexual Violence, an exhibition by PROOF: Media for Social Justice, was designed by Willhemina Wahlin, lecturer in graphic design and PhD candidate in the CSU School of Communication and Creative Industries and PROOF: Media for Social Justice creative director.

The exhibition opened on December 16 in New Delhi and will tour India next year.

The opening marked three years since the rape and murder of Nirbhyaya on a bus in Delhi. The 23-year-old victim's father Badri Nath attended the opening and panel discussion.

"The aim of the exhibition is to raise awareness of the numerous instances of rape across India and the need for change in order to protect women and girls from violence," Ms Wahlin said.

Indian non-profit organisations the Centre for Social Research and the National Foundation for India collaborated with PROOF to develop the exhibition which includes photographic portraits and testimonies from survivors of rape and those who have stood up against rape.

Selections from the Rape in India project, created by photojournalists CJ Clarke and Paloumi Basau, are also included.

Raising awareness: PROOF: Media for Social Justice executive director Leora Kahn speaks with the media at the opening of the exhibition Unearthed: Stories of Courage in the Face of Sexual Violence. 
Photo: CJ Clarke

Raising awareness: PROOF: Media for Social Justice executive director Leora Kahn speaks with the media at the opening of the exhibition Unearthed: Stories of Courage in the Face of Sexual Violence. Photo: CJ Clarke

The Rape in India Project is a crowd sourced platform to share photos of rape sites to protest against the frequency of sexual assault in India.

"PROOF's projects always work on two levels," Ms Wahlin said.

"First, we encourage change on a policy level, so that governments become motivated to make significant legislative changes in order to protect human rights.

"Secondly, on a cultural level, we encourage change so that behaviour such as victim shaming and rape itself becomes a thing of the past."

Ms Wahlin's PhD research at CSU focuses on the typographic design of testimony within "difficult knowledge" exhibitions like Unearthed.

Her research is developing interpretive models that she hopes will help designers and other exhibition team members work together for better outcomes.

"The exhibiting of difficult knowledge topics, like genocide, contested histories, war and gender violence, is on the rise, and for good reason," Ms Wahlin said.

"It can play a significant role in helping communities to heal, and is a very effective educational tool. "Unfortunately, while there has been a lot written about this in other disciplines, there is very little that has been written by designers and for designers. I hope my doctorate will address this."

Powerful message: One of Unearthed photographers, Ravi Mishra, speaks with Badri Nath, the father of Nirbhyaya, who was only 23 years-old when she was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi.  
She died three days later as a result of her injuries, sparking outrage in India and across the world.  
Photo: CJ Clarke

Powerful message: One of Unearthed photographers, Ravi Mishra, speaks with Badri Nath, the father of Nirbhyaya, who was only 23 years-old when she was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi. She died three days later as a result of her injuries, sparking outrage in India and across the world. Photo: CJ Clarke

Ms Wahlin said designers had a huge social responsibility to get these representations right.

"On the one hand, we're trying to engage audiences with subject matter that no-one really wants to learn about because, let's face it, most of us would prefer to avoid this kind of 'difficult' knowledge if we could," she said.

"On the other hand, we need to be incredibly mindful of the representations we're creating, so that they uphold the dignity of the people who have been brave enough to tell their stories."

By basing her research on real-world scenarios through her work with PROOF, Ms Wahlin also hopes she can help those who work in other fields to understand what designers do.

"I recently travelled to Yale University in the US where I gave a lecture as part of the Genocide Studies program's Special Seminar series," Ms Wahlin said.

"I really think design has a lot to offer those in disciplines like genocide studies, and I hope to do much more of this kind of thing in the future."

For now, Ms Wahlin hopes Unearthed will motivate politicians and ordinary people to create significant change.

"It's vitally important that we create much greater protections and respect for women and girls, not only in India, but around the world," she said.

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