Expliced pictures - communication through posters in Malawi
By Dennis Ringersma on 13 June 2011
A bloody diaper of a baby. This gruesome photograph is well known throughout South Africa, as it is depicted in hospitals, police stations and other public buildings throughout its provinces. Originally targetting the belief that sex with an infant would cure HIV/Aids, the poster later was meant to open the general public’s eye concerning child abuse. This is not the only poster that will make your stomach make a 360. Here in Malawi posters that adress crime issues are graphic as well. On one poster we see a woman burning her child’s hand and on the other we see a man who has just defiled a small girl. Looking at these posters from my Dutch point of view, I cannot help but think that posters like that will never be hung up in the Netherlands. I have been trying to find out why I feel this way. I think there are a couple of reasons.
For one I believe that we ‘smooth’ things over in our public messages. If you look at the posters on child abuse in the Netherlands, one sees the back of a child, eyes that are closed or missing and lots of words and terms. Whatever the picture it is clear that explicit graphics are not the way to go. This can have something to do with literacy levels in the Netherlands compared to Malawi. A poster containing words and symbolism (which is arguably also the case in Holland), asks more of a brain than just a blunt message. Or in other words: If your audience can’t read, make sure that your message is absolutely clear.
Secondly one could argue that abuse isn’t rife in the Netherlands as it is in Malawi or South Africa for that matter. True. But let us not forget that in the Netherlands children are abused. Maybe by ‘smoothing’ over our pictures we are somewhat closing our eyes, instead of facing the truth head on? Thirdly, I would argue that Holland and Malawi differ in that the latter is a hardened country. It’s people face challenges on matters that most of us in the Netherlands, luckily, never will face. Challenges of famine, shelter, poverty and the like. A bloody diaper: a hard message for a hardy people. Maybe that’s why for me it would seem so out of place in the Netherlands.