I have an interesting commission at the moment, but it is one that has challenged both my ethics and my graphical skill in terms of the illustrations I produce for it – and this is not something I was expecting.
It is all for a good cause, however. I have been asked by a Missionary friend working in an East Asian country to assist with producing a set of posters to help in her work. Her work is mainly focussed on children with special needs, and in this particular country (which I cannot name) the attitudes to children with special needs is really quite bad – certainly not as accepting and embracing as here in Australia. There is a good deal of discrimination, or hiding the “problem” away, and even of shame that you have a child with special needs. So my friend wants to create a series of posters that highlight both the negative attitudes and positive ones.
But herein is the rub. How do you, or even should you, illustrate someone with “special needs”. After all, everyone is different and looks different, so should I be stereotyping graphically a child with special needs? Firstly, some special needs are physically recognisable and some (like autism) are not. Secondly, if part of the problem is the obvious differentiation within this society, am I exacerbating it by graphically making the subject children appear different to the “normal” children?
I speak with some experience in the matter in question, as many of you may know I have a child with special needs myself. So what do I think? While it will surely come, we are lucky that our daughter hasn’t experienced any discrimination herself so far. And I guess my problem is I don’t see her as different – she is just who she is.
The answer I came up with is specifically for this project and I suspect I would approach it differently if it was a poster for here in Australia. After discussing it with my friend, we decided that the situation is so bad in this country that it would not be seen as discriminating to make them look different. If it helps get a positive message across, then it is worth exploring.
My solution: To make it quite cartoonish, non-realistic and to give the children with special needs square heads, whereas the other “normal” kids/people have round heads. I will also stick to strong primary colours, with the square heads coloured blue and the round heads coloured red.
It’s still a work in progress, so I’ll post up the finished work when it is completed.