One of the nice things about having so many projects is that you learn about things that might otherwise fly under your radar. In the past week I’ve had flash lessons in classical operatic history, php coding, videogame programming (more on that soon), and more.

One of the bad things is that sometimes you realize what horrible people humans can be sometimes. Still, if the word gets out and change is made, then the results are worth that depressing realization.

In my work for women’s rights groups, I was pointed to the following: Publicis, an advertising company in Sweden, has created a series of full-page ads for Amnesty International designed to depict the horrors of female genital mutilation. You can see the ads on the Publicis Web site, though I’m taking the liberty of reproducing a smaller version here.

The Publicis ad depicts a sewn-up rose on barren ground.Yes, the imagery of a flower for genitalia is somewhat tired, and the very concepts it was originally meant to evoke – of fragile, passive gentility, of waiting to be fulfilled – are no longer the concepts most men and women want to see linked to femininity. There’s been some discussion in the blogosphere about whether or not any image could really make this work without going for full-on graphic depiction, which might work in terms of shock value but which probably couldn’t be reproduced on board the Ravenswood L train. Some are arguing that the use of simple typography – stark, bold and shocking – might be a more effective treatment, and I can see their point. Having the word MUTILIATION greet you over your morning coffee at the bus station will probably get you to look a little closer.

However, even if other people would make other choices, I think Publicis did an excellent job here. The three treatments utilize different colors of roses, sewn shut in different ways; which really strikes home how horrifying this concept is. If you’ve ever seen female genitalia close up – and if you haven’t, you’re probably not my target audience at this point – these images can’t help but impress on you what the graphic depiction would really look like.

If that doesn’t sicken you then you’re not only not my target audience, but I want you to go get professional help immediately, preferably from Mister Law Enforcement Officer.

The choice of brown, cracked stony ground behind the floral image evokes barrenness, sterility, and futility. It also creates a very real heaviness in the overall poster, leading one to think (at a distance) that perhaps the central message is one of hope, creating an even greater shock and disconnect when one realizes what they’re really talking about. Most importantly, at least from a design standpoint, it makes the central image really fly right off the page.

Finally, the choice to scatter one or two petals on the ground around the roses not only creates a quiet sense of loss and violation, in two of the three treatments they lead the eyes directly to the Amnesty International logo. That’s simply good advertising sense – you want people to do something about this, and these are the people you call.

Despite this rather clinical treatment of the ad and its imagery, I’m still shaken by the power of it and the horrors it depicts. If you agree and find yourself with some extra cash this holiday season, I urge you to visit Amnesty International and help pass the International Violence Against Women Act. If not that act, then some act, some way in which we can stand together against the horrors of the world.

In the interest of full disclosure, I learned this through McHenry County Citizens for Choice, who linked me to Broadsheet, who linked me to Copyranter, whose blog is now being added to my daily trawl. Because I needed another thing to read, dammit.