The Art of Cultural Connection
Storytelling has always been the thread that holds cultures together. Oral tradition, passed down from one generation to the next, provides continuity to a community and helps define the individual identities of its members. Visual storytelling has an even greater power to spark curiosity about a culture and opens the door to true understanding and acceptance of a people.
Justine Swindell understands that more than most artists. Holding a Masters in Sociology, she approaches each project with the spirit of a researcher. When national brands latched onto the idea of storytelling as a means to create more loyal communities of customers, Justine was well positioned to create art that added dimension to those brands. Her work diverged from the mass advertising we all see and focused on understanding why specific communities held an affinity for the brand. Needless to say, her work for those brands effectively struck a chord that mainstream advertising did not.
When she decided to pursue the field of commercial illustration, Justine saw the opportunity to apply her discipline to causes and cultures that needed a voice. As she puts it, “When a culture is unseen, or unheard, it cannot achieve the connection needed for understanding.”
When the Poarch Creek Indians approached Justine to help tell the story of the Tribe, she wanted to immerse herself in the cultural traditions that bind the Members together. That research helped her better understand the relationships the Tribe has had with its neighbors throughout history and today. It also gave her fresh insight into the dynamics of the Tribe’s relationships today. Only after she developed this foundational understanding did she begin to sketch.
For many of the causes and communities she has worked with, there is either a lack of awareness or a preconceived notion of their stories. Her goal to help the unseen be seen begins with truth and humanity. She feels that if she can visually tell the true essence of a story in a way that awakens common human emotions, it will create the awareness and shift in understanding that bring people together.
The scenes she created to tell the Tribe’s story capture aspects of the culture that Poarch shares with its neighbors. The story is one of unity. It depicts how Poarch is one with the land, one with family, and one with its neighbors. While the style may be described as bold and abstract, the elements are familiar. In a single scene, a viewer understands what makes the Tribe unique while also better understanding the values held in common.
This was Justine’s first time working with an Indian Nation. When she shifted gears to more cause-related storytelling, most of her initial efforts focused on communities that were more familiar to her. She sees a commonality between those causes and the Tribe’s efforts. She says, “In both cases, there is a human desire to be seen. To connect on a deeper level. To understand each other.”