I recently acquired a button maker. You know, to make those pin buttons you put on your backpack or jacket to rep your favorite band, the cool startup you work for or to give the world that personal snapshot, large or small, about what’s going on in your mind.
I am not sure why, but I have been a little obsessed with them of late. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of my punk days and finding that perfectly obscure button for my jacket, the one that wasn’t available at the local mall, but required actually seeing (and possibly meeting) the band featured on it. Or maybe it’s the fact that they are tiny analog beacons in an over-digitalized world – kitschy or not, at least they are real. I don’t know, but long story, short…my little obsession turned into a curiosity and, as often happens to me in these cases, resulted in me owning the means to make them.
One of the things I love about buttons and bumper stickers and all the other forms of canned self expression, is that they can be useful. They can spread ideas. They might, in their very highest form, even change the world, if only a little and now I had the potential power to do that. As I was contemplating (and likely overestimating) this new found power, I got lost in the possibilities. While contemplating, I made some for my friend’s coffee shop, which he was super happy about. Then, I did a couple with the Element Five logo on it. Ok, cool – but not earth shattering.
OK, now what should I make?
It wasn’t an easy decision for me. After all, a good button is simple, visually appealing and quick to understand/absorb. As I was contemplating designing some new logos and icons to represent different concepts of change that are important to me, I felt a little stuck. So often these days, we try to create “new things” – it seems like a constant pressure. You all know the buzzwords flying around, “create”, “iterate” or take something and “hack” it to do something else or my absolute least favorite “disrupt”. Then I remembered an old symbol that really spoke to me when I first heard about it many years ago that you rarely see around. It is called the Peace Banner, which was the symbol of the Roerich Pact.
Nicholas Roerich, was a Russian painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist and purposeful conservator of art and culture. After seeing all that was lost in the First World War, not just in terms of lives (20 Million dead and 21 Million wounded – which seems almost unfathomable itself) but also in art, architecture, literature and shared history, he worked with international law experts to draft the pact bearing his name.
According to Wikipedia, The Roerich Pact, “…is the first international treaty dedicated to the protection of artistic and scientific institutions and historical monuments.” You can read it in detail here, but essentially it provided protection to culturally important sites during times of conflict. The flag/marker was meant to indicate and protect the site’s neutrality, much like the Red Cross does so for hospitals and other medical sites. It would protect museums (the buildings and art)—but also other spaces of cultural activities: universities, libraries, concert halls, theaters, etc. At its height (around 1935) at least 37 countries, including the United States signed onto it.
Of course, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need any symbols to tell us where not to drop bombs – no, in that world we wouldn’t be dropping bombs on each other at all. Still, as I watch the world and the posture of those in power today, I see many similarities to the time period in which the Roerich Pact came to be and feel like the world may need a symbol like this more than it ever has before.
Since 2003, I have watched as ancient cultural sites in the world have been destroyed, many that predate history, all that told the story of humanity and some, of the very dawn of civilization itself. They are irreplaceable and lost forever to us and whether it happened, during U.S. led bombing raids in Baghdad or by the sledgehammers of the Da’ish (ISIS) zealots in Syria, hardly seems to matter in the end. No, the reality is that we have lost important pieces of our shared history and, one could argue, of our collective humanity forever.
The other peace symbol
The Peace Banner is a simple and beautiful symbol, one that Roerich borrowed from ancient sources, that consists of three circles locked up by a larger circle. A mentor of mine, Richard is the one that first made me aware if it back in the mid-nineties. His assertion was that it should have been used as the symbol of the anti-war movement of the 60’s and 70’s rather than the peace symbol most of us know (aka CND Peace Symbol) – it really bugged him that it wasn’t for some reason. At any rate, I have always been drawn to it, as I have been to another early symbol of the twentieth century, the Broken Rifle, used by War Resisters International.
So, in the end, one of the things I have decided to do with my little button maker, is make a few buttons bearing Roerich’s Peace Banner symbol–my own small message, from the perspective of a lifelong artist, one of peace and humanity to the world. Who knows? Maybe it will catch on. Maybe if we could all agree (and adhere) to cultural sites and schools and hospitals being out of bounds for all conflicts, then maybe we might start slowly realizing and expanding the definition of what constitutes cultural sites. Imagine a world where everything we produce, do and say is deemed more important than our base instinct of killing one another – even my most cynical self can get down with that.
Yeah, maybe I am overreaching. Maybe the world is too far gone. I might very well be wasting my time and the tin my buttons are pressed on, but as the old saying goes, “You may say that I am a dreamer…”.
At any rate, I’ll make a few extras…you know–just in case. If you want one, shoot me a note or message so we can work something out…