Every four years, the United States undergoes its presidential election, and 2020 is an election year, with November 3rd arriving quickly. As a democracy, the American people are passionate about their independent right to vote. However, some Americans are not always as confident in the power of their vote, primarily when their voice is not represented on the ballot. The Unity Project at the Norman Rockwell Museum is encouraging all people to vote by featuring illustrative work dedicated to an “inclusive America in which all voices are heard.”
The project is currently on display in the Norman Rockwell: Imaging Freedom Exhibit. The Freedom Exhibit examines the power of images and their role in the cultural narrative. The call for freedom is across racial, gender, ethnic, and religious lines and inspires conversation about social concerns through the artistic and historical lens’. The Unity Project fits nicely into the exhibit, for the project is encouraging civic engagement regarding social concern and encouraging all backgrounds through illustrative publication.
The Norman Rockwell Unity Project is solely featuring contemporary illustrators. The artists include Mai Ly Degnan, Anita Kunz, Rudy Guiterrez, Tim O’Brien, Whitney Sherman, and Yuko Shimizu. Each illustrative poster from the artists incites a call to action for all Americans to vote and features all voices.
Mai Ly Degnan is an illustrator and illustration professor in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also the creator of “Defend Democracy” in the Unity Project. The poster features a line of voters all wearing masks emblazoned with “vote.” Degnan positions a woman of colour in the foreground casting her vote; the woman is wearing a white shirt with a bold red message reading “DEFEND DEMOCRACY.” Degnan’s artistic choices for her illustration tell clear and encouraging messages. For instance, all voters are wearing masks, indicating a period (2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic); moreover, all the masks and clothing are bright and cheerful colours, linking a positive tone to voting. By illustrating the woman of colour at the forefront with her “DEFEND DEMOCRACY” message, Degnan is encouraging black women to exercise their right to vote and emphasizing the power and impact behind an individual’s vote.
Another unique illustrative poster in the Norman Rockwell Unity Project is Rudy Gutierrez’s “Humanity, Not Politics” piece. Rudy Gutierrez is a New York artist who uses bold colours and is inspired by musical feelings. “Humanity, Not Politics” is an illustration filled with movement of colour and emotions. The background’s bold rainbow colours with soft yet distinctive and rounded strokes pull the viewer's eye to the black woman and subject of the piece. The strokes of the rainbow reverberate off the woman like sound waves, showing her call to action, phrases like “We the people,” “human rights,” “VOTE,” and “power” tattoo the woman’s body. Gutierrez also used imagery like the bald eagle, barbed wire, faces of BIPOC persons, a police chalk body outline, and a virus. Each image could symbolize a different reason for Americans to vote. In “Humanity, Not Politics,” Rudy Gutierrez uses imagery specific to the American society to tell a humanized story to encourage Americans to vote.
The Unity Project at the Norman Rockwell Museum exemplifies how artists are prominent leaders and influencers within social change. Artists can connect with people from all different backgrounds, but they also can create space for the representation of all voices. There is power behind representation, and there is power behind an individual’s voice. Each illustration in the Unity Project uplifts the power of voice. With brilliant colour, weighty rhetoric, and emotional imagery, the artists featured in the Norman Rockwell Museum Unity Project empower all Americans to exercise their right to vote.