With its #StandUp4Migrants campaign, UN Human Rights aims to bring hope and shared values to the core of how the story on migration is told. Through changing the way we tell stories about migrants and migration, we can bring communities together and ensure the human rights of migrants are upheld.
Ellena Ekarahendy designed the powerful illustrations which are at the heart of our campaign. Ekarahendy is a visual communication designer based in Jakarta, Indonesia, and believes in ‘good design for good deeds.’
Depicting unity and community, she tells us about the power of art to bring people together.
What was the artistic inspiration behind these illustrations?
I’m on a learning journey to visually communicate diversity better, and that’s something I have been including in my art and design works. During the process, I brainstormed a lot with UN Human Rights to visualise each of the scenes from the animation scripts. I tried to portray different nationalities and ages as well. I used a lot of cheerful colours in these illustrations – as well as in many of my other works – to ignite hope and togetherness.
The work I enjoy the most is when I can respond to issues I care about and when I can encourage socio-political changes with my art and design. Doing the illustrations for #StandUp4Migrants is an example of this. It has been a precious opportunity for me to get involved in such an important campaign.
How did you evoke the concept of a united society, where there is no “us” vs “them”?
I personally have always dreamt of a world without borders where people of all colours, races, genders, ages, sexual orientations, and abilities can live side by side in peace and genuine collectivism. Our current condition with the rise of authoritarianism and late stage capitalism has created an awful world to live in. Coming from a working class family, I have experienced this, and it affected us badly. And things are not getting any better as I get older. So somehow, most of my art and design work is my way to picture the hope and vision of a better world to live in. And I want more people to start believing that a better world is possible, too.
How does art have the power to bring us together?
I have always believed that visual communication has an important role in delivering messages in a very effective way. It can present complicated issues in an easier way to understand, and be relevant to the people to whom we want to reach out. It can touch your emotions, shape your perceptions, and encourage you to think and act. When people in power take advantage of us and make us feel we are divided, art can play an important role to propose an alternative narrative: to challenge these ideas, to be kind with each other, and to respect all living beings.
“Our perception has always been shaped by dominant narratives that we consume in our daily life, but art can play a role to disrupt that and intrigue us to critically question and rethink how we perceive things.”
Do you have any favourite illustrations from the campaign?
I love how these two scenes (below) give space to portray happy children from diverse backgrounds who can play and dream together. It’s always heartwarming to see children have the opportunity to have joyful memories to cherish. Children are pure souls, they are smart and they learn quickly, but sometimes not all of them have the chance to grow in an environment which can teach them that differences do unite us and make each of us unique. Differences are not something that we need to fear and hate. I wish more children could have a chance to embrace their curiosity and grow their empathy to learn, understand, and respect each other—and keep those values when they grow up and can teach them to the future generations.
This dining table scene (below) is a closing scene where diverse people can sit at one table sharing the food and the warmth with each other. This is the peaceful society that we’re longing for. This idea came from a quote that I keep as my personal reminder (which I put on my desk) which says, “When you have more than what you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.” I believe this can be applied to how we respond to migration issues as well.
Why do you think it is important to stand up for the rights of migrants?
Because all humans are created equal and no human is illegal! It’s always those who are in power that divide us in any way possible fuelling hatred and division because they can benefit from that. This isn’t right at all. That’s why it’s important to challenge and—hopefully—to dismantle these harmful patterns by changing the narrative on the issue of migration. .
Can art help us achieve narrative change? If so, how?
I believe yes, definitely! But it is important to keep in mind that art alone is not enough. Art and design can help us to communicate ideas better. In the most engaging way, they can also ignite visionary ideas that we may not think were possible before. However, the path to change doesn’t stop there. It requires big collaborations with a lot of entities, and that’s why it’s important for artists and designers to be close with their communities. If we put people at the heart of our work, we can understand what kind of better society we dream of and work towards it collectively.