The best piece of design I saw today

18 April 2024
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...was this detail from the Africa exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum.

To clarify what's going on here, I'll zoom out a bit.

The power of this design isn't in the actual typography or layout or even art... its the audience participation.

As the sign says, each of the chain links represent what year each country legally abolished slavery, putting them on a chain that, for many countries, reaches startingly close to modern times.

But here's the real kicker: the United States—and Brazil too, did you catch that?—has been graffitied. Over the years, in protest, hundreds of museum-goers gouged out the date that would be under our country: 1865.

Here's my take: I know next to nothing about the other countries on this list, but I do know that both the United States and Brazil are both still reeling from and dealing with the repercussions of centuries of slavery.

Furthermore, both still permit slavery, although in very different ways. The U.S. has codified involuntary servitude into our Constitution in the 13th amendment, allowing it "as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." I'm no expert on how this works, but I do know that prisoners in the U.S. are both some of the most vulnerable people groups in the nation, and that when/if they are paid anything at all, it's so pitifully low that no one would ever mistake it for a paycheck.

To claim that slavery has ended, these museum-goers are saying, would be to ignore the millions of prisoners that are still slaves today. I'm sure others gouged out the date for other reasons, but that's the best one I got so far.

As for Brazil, a quick Wikipedia search shows slavery very much still exists there today. So the title "When slavery finally ended..." is a misnomer; the country may have made it illegal, but it doesn't mean it's just gone.

Often the museums are here, hopefully, to correct our misconceptions. I love that some people have chosen to correct the museum right back. Participation art at its finest.


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© 2024 Caedon Spilman — Design & Creative Direction

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