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Creative students work with Stephen Lawrence's brother to design impactful artwork


Graphic Design (Illustration) students at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) have produced a collection of impactful posters and educational resources to help raise awareness of the first national Stephen Lawrence Day today. 

Third-year students were tasked with creating artwork to educate and influence young people in memory of Stephen, encouraging them to ‘live their best life’, which is the theme for the first commemorative day in his name.

Dr Emma Powell with Graphic Design Illustration students in the new SLRC

The project was led by Dr Emma Powell, senior lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration at DMU, and Stuart Lawrence, Stephen’s brother. Dr Powell taught Stuart Graphic Communication at The University of Northampton some 20 years ago.

“Undertaking this project directly with Stuart was a fantastic experience for all the students involved,” said Dr Powell. “From the start, they understood that this was very personal for both Stuart and I, and they were all so committed to creating work that would be impactful.”

Stephen was just 18 when he was murdered in a racially motivated knife attack in South East London on 22 April 1993. Last year, on the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a national day of commemoration in his name would take place on 22 April every year.

“Stuart was very clear that he wanted the project outcomes to have a positive message to inspire younger generations to learn from his brother’s legacy,” said Dr Powell. “That’s what the national Stephen Lawrence Day is all about.”

The students were asked to consider important social issues when creating their designs, and to think about the impact their work can have on the wider community. As well as producing posters, several of them also designed proposed educational materials for teachers to potentially use in schools across the UK.

Eleanor Brown, 20, designed a guidebook for primary school teachers with a structure to explain how they could use her work as a learning resource.

She said: “I made a booklet full of example activities that teachers can use with their pupils to help them understand the importance of Stephen Lawrence Day and the reason behind it.

Eleanor Brown, Graphic Design Illustration student

“For my poster, the theme was based around architecture, as that was what Stephen wanted to do. I incorporated a concept of ‘building upwards’ to promote positivity, using a three-block structure with three key elements: achieve, inspire and remember.

“Achieve is all about getting the children to think about their own future goals; inspire is about working in teams and coming together to do something good; and remember is about reflection and remembering to treat others with kindness.”

Ryan Traynor, 32, based his design on the idea of refurbishing a derelict building. He said: “I wanted to get across that young people are the ones responsible for building the future and making good of their situation.

“The brief was very open but essentially the primary objective is to change attitudes of young people. It’s nice to be involved in something that could make a real change for a good cause.”

Ryan Traynor, Graphic Design Illustration student

The project was embedded into the curriculum for the third-year graphic design students and DMU collaborated with Leicester Print Workshop (LPW), where the students learnt advanced Letterpress skills.

Three students were awarded free membership for LPW, after impressing a panel of judges with their designs, while a selection of their work was included in an exhibition at LCB Depot in Leicester.

Dr Powell added: “This project was a tricky task for the students. They had to work with a really loose brief and try to communicate something positive about a very difficult topic.

“I cannot put into words the importance of this brief and how it enabled a full spectrum of students to produce Graphic Design and Illustration work that has ‘real world’ relevance and impact.”

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The students’ artwork is now on display at the new Stephen Lawrence Research Centre (SLRC) on DMU’s campus. Officially opening on 9 May, the SLRC will research the histories of black and minority ethnic communities in the UK, the politics and practice of institutional racism, denials of justice and the psychology of racial violence.

A dedicated exhibition space details the journey towards justice in the aftermath of Stephen’s death, while a dedicated Stephen Lawrence Archive, in the university’s Kimberlin Library, houses artefacts donated by Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother and DMU Chancellor.

Dr Kennetta Hammond Perry, director of the SLRC, said: “I was really blown away by the work that the students produced as part of this project. I think that it’s a shining example of the ways that universities can play a role in advancing the work of Stephen Lawrence Day and we’d love to develop a wider showcase for that work.”

Posted on Monday 22nd April 2019

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