Rajie Cook discussed his work as an artist and activist during a visit to the Moravian campus February 1-2, 2010. Photo by John Kish IV.

Guest Speaker Rajie Cook: Seeking Peace, by Design

Art has the power to enlighten and inspire; to provoke and to heal; to change minds and to change lives.

Rajie Cook—one of the original "mad men" (his Cook and Shanosky Associates design firm, founded in '67, created ads for Volvo, AT&T, De Beers, Caterpillar, and other top corporations)— spoke about his work as an artist and activist at two campus presentations February 1 and 2, 2010. Anne Dutlinger, chair and professor of art, arranged the visit to Moravian.

The recipient of the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 1984, Cook (also known as Roger Cook) and his firm created the familiar U.S. Department of Transportation icons found throughout airports, hotels, highway signs, and other public places—a kind of visual language for travelers.

Students studied several of Cook's sculptural assemblages, such as "Rock and Load" (2001; top). After the presentation, the artist spoke with students in Prof. Anne Dutlinger's "Artists as Activist's" class. Middle and bottom photos by John Kish IV.

In recent years, Cook has used his legendary creativity to raise public awareness about a very different topic: human rights in the Middle East. His sculptural assemblages, which include "Un-Due Process," "Hope on Hold," "Rock and Load" (shown at left), and "Processed for Peace," are carefully constructed wooden boxes that frame flea market finds, such as doll heads and limbs, bits of hardware, and fabric scraps, as well as his own photos.

"I said 'I must do something to create public awareness about this.—As a designer, I can communicate this,'" said Cook."

As a 10-year member of the Presbyterian Church's Task Force for the Middle East, Cook made fact-finding trips to Gaza, Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank and met with Israelis, Muslims, and Christians. "I remember coming out of a refugee camp and breaking down and crying," said Cook in his February 2 presentation, "A MasterPeace Requires Artfulness." "It was like a prison. The people live in squalor. I said "I must do something to create public awareness about this. As a designer, I can communicate this.' … The thing that affected me most was seeing what is happening to the children. … There’s got to be peace—for both peoples.”

After the Tuesday presentation, Cook talked with students in the "Artists as Activists" special topics course taught by Professor Dutlinger and in the Digital Photography class taught by assistant art professor Krista Steinke Finch.

"I learned that I can help create public awareness through my art," said Richelle Daly '11, an art major who attended the presentation. "Art is much more than making pretty things," added Amanda Raiser '11, an art education major. "It's also about taking on a responsibility and promoting a message. As an art teacher, I will want to explain the power of art to my students."