November third is fast approaching, and many acclaimed artists are using their talents to encourage Americans to vote in this pivotal election year. One such powerful initiative is The Unity Project, a collection of inspiring illustrations produced as a collaboration between the Norman Rockwell Museum and Rock the Vote. The project is currently available digitally at vote.nrm.org, and is also on view as part of the "Norman Rockwell: Imagining Freedom" exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. One of the prominent artists to participate in The Unity Project is BFA Illustration faculty member Yuko Shimizu.
On the eve of the beginning of early voting in New York, we spoke to Shimizu about “Defend Democracy,” her vibrant Unity Project poster that she says is “unapologetically American, powerful and hopeful.” Shimizu is originally from Japan, lives in New York and is not an American citizen. As an outsider embraced by the art community in the U.S., a female and a minority, she has a unique perspective on the United States, its current state of politics and American notions of liberty as the rest of the world observes them.
What was your inspiration for this project?
I wanted to create something unapologetically American and full of energy [that would] encourage women and minorities [but also be] accessible to everyone. I wanted to draw a powerful female figure, thus looked at some old Wonder Woman comic book covers from the ’40s, and that gave me the idea of the Statue of Liberty as a modern super-heroine.
Why did you feel like this was an important initiative to participate in? Was the piece specifically made for this exhibition?
This image was made explicitly for this project. I call the USA my home. But I am not an American citizen. This country’s politics affect me and my life, but I can’t personally cast my vote. As an artist, the least I can do is participate and illustrate a poster to ask those who can go and vote. And to defend democracy.
What role can artists play in this very heated political moment, and amid an unprecedented health care crisis?
As a person who moved from another country who had to learn a new language upon my arrival, I always think about the importance and power of images. We don’t need words to speak. We don’t need languages to communicate. Pictures speak to anyone, even if our languages are uncommunicable. I love reading, but reading takes time. Pictures, though they may not carry as much information, communicate instantly. With that visual vocabulary, we can do so much with images.
What is the message you wish for people to take away from your artwork?
I hope people get excited to go vote, and that every single one of them has the power to make changes. Each individual voter, is, in a way, a superhero. This idea is the beauty of democracy, and we have to keep this intact.
Shimizu's poster is now on view at the The Norman Rockwell Museum. Additionally, one of her SVA Subway posters is currently on view at Auburn University's Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art in Alabama, as part of "Underground Images: A Half-Century of SVA Subway Posters Created by Women."