Graphic design student Mark Sutton and most of his peers at the Department of Art never met Nohemi Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, a Cal State Long Beach industrial design student, was among the 129 victims that died in the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks. She was in Paris as part of a study abroad program with the State School of Design.
Sutton and a group of classmates were determined to express the grief shared by design students across the California State University system. The message to the CSULB community was simple, Sutton says: “We’re sorry you lost a designer; we all lost a designer.”
In the aftermath of the attacks, he initiated a memorial project in remembrance of Gonzalez. Five student teams designed posters that encouraged faculty, students and staff at the College of Environmental to sign at Buildings 7 and 13 before they were delivered to CSULB on Dec. 1 by Sutton and classmates Nathen Ruiz, Sean Gardner and Ciara Maher.
“We were all in tears,” says Martin Herman, chair of the Department of Design at CSULB. “It was very moving. They’re phenomenal designers. It was student generated, and we feel very close to the people there [Cal Poly Pomona Department of Art]. For me, what it brought out is that we often don’t have an occasion to express our closeness with the other CSUs. This makes us feel very aware of the friendship among CSUs.”
The posters were incorporated into the memorial display at the Duncan Anderson Gallery on campus before they were presented on Dec. 4 to Gonzalez’s family at her public funeral in Downey.
The students completed the project within four days, says Art Professor Daniel Sorrell.
“I gave them free rein because it should come from their hearts,” he says. “It wasn’t hard work, it was heart work.”
Sutton, along with nearly a dozen other students from Sorrell’s graphic design and typography classes, worked on the posters with the understanding that it was a voluntary exercise that won’t count towards their grades. Each design played to the strengths of the student designers involved: Sutton, Ruiz and classmates Douglas Leon, Sean Gardner and Jocelyn Chung created a multimedia poster incorporating oils, watercolor and Chung’s specialty, calligraphy.
“Her name is simple and yet meaningful,” Chung says. “This is the name her mom gave her; this is the name her friends called. This was a living, breathing person. I hope her family and loved ones know that we stand in solidarity. She’s so representative of the Paris attacks that made the event tangible and closer to home.”
The iconic outline of the Eiffel Tower, and the red, white and blue colors of the French national flag figured prominently in the four designs produced by Brooke Emmet, Ray Marquez, Christopher Rosa and Jasper Chou. The tri-color scheme visually signified and unified the ties between France and the United States. Jarrett Bridges’ piece, maps of California and France, marked Long Beach and Paris. The cost of printing the posters – each measuring three by six feet — was covered by Rodney Oda, owner of Santa Ana-based design studio Red Graphics.
“I think they really rose to the occasion,” says Sarah Meyer, chair of the Department of Art in the College of Environmental Design. “I think the fact that they delivered it as peers, it’s huge. It speaks not only to the value of their education, but the values of how they were raised. This is all from their hearts and it speaks to the power of visual communication to cross barriers and to inspire healing.”