ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Mari Nakano (MFA Media Design ‘09)

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February 8, 2014

Mari Nakano (Grad Media Design ‘09) has been a graphic designer, design researcher and art director for over 9 years and has worked with such notables as the United Nations Population Fund, ArtWorks Projects, Women Deliver, Pepsi Co. and Design Continuum. She was also a 2008 Designmatters Fellow. Mari is the founder of Peace Oven, a design studio, which supports the work of designer-artists. She is also the Managing Director of Miki Space, a center dedicated to promoting Japanese culture and heritage through the education and performance of traditional and contemporary Japanese music and art. She currently resides in New York.

UNFPA “Too Young to Wed” Exhibition Art Directed by Art Center Alumna Mari Nakano

In collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and VII Photo Agency, I served as the Artistic Director for the exhibition portion of Too Young to Wed, a transmedia campaign on child marriage, featuring the work of renowned photographer Stephanie Sinclair and videographer Jessica Dimmock. I was also appointed as the publication designer for Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage, an in-depth UNFPA report on the prevalence and impact of child marriage, which accompanied the exhibition. The exhibition, which opened at the United Nations Visitors’ Centre on October 11th, marked the Inaugural Day of the Girl Child, which was declared by the United Nations as a global observance to emphasize the importance of protecting the rights of girls.

Photo credit: Whitney Kidder

Child marriage is an intense and appalling issue. It is estimated that in the next decade, 142 million girls around the globe will be forced into marriage. While this number may, for some, seem unbelievable, the truth is that every day, nearly 39,000 girls are forced to marry. These are girls who may never be able to receive an education, who will be abused and oppressed by their husbands and who will give birth while they are still children themselves.

It was a privilege to work with international politicians and advocates and with Stephanie Sinclair, who has been documenting child marriage worldwide for over a decade. I think this was, perhaps, one of the more humbling jobs I’ve had in my career. I was given the challenge of having to create an exhibition with a narrative that would not only allow people to understand the extreme nature of child marriage, but also remind people that we are dealing with innocent little girls who are being denied their basic human rights. When they are forced to marry at such young ages, they lose the freedom of choice. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke at the exhibition opening, he reminded us to think about our own daughters, nieces and sisters. The exhibit served not just as a medium to inform viewers, but to call people to action. It was part of a larger ongoing campaign, which is making use of the affordances of social media to disseminate its message.

As a designer, I have a responsibility to be educated in the issues I am designing for, not just so I can have context for my work, but so I can be an advocate too. While it was my job to find a visual solution for the exhibition and printed matter, I have learned that in the line of advocacy design, one really needs to be able to be a voice as well. You can’t silently put up photos and paint walls without considering the obligation you have to inform both high-level politicians and everyday people.

I became a designer and entered Art Center with the goal of developing a career centered on highlighting and combating social injustices and celebrating culture. For me, design is another tool to communicate pressing social issues. Some people choose to become doctors or lawyers, politicians or educators, but designers should understand that our line of work can be powerful too. We may not speak eloquently or be able to stitch up a wound, but with the right intentions, we can help others see things in a different way and play a vital role in issues that require massive change. I hope the contributions I made in this campaign will help move people to take action and form a larger movement towards ending child marriage.

For more information about Too Young to Wed, visit:

To read the Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage report: