Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2022

Author's School

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

Author's Department

Graduate School of Art

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Illustration & Visual Culture

Degree Type



“The Precarity of Images” examines how theories of worldbuilding common to the science fiction genre are applied to the making of agitational propaganda for liberation movements. In doing so, it questions how both explicit and implicit political images—posters, games, comics, illustrations, social media posts—either light a pathway for making a more just world or limit our ability to imagine alternate futures.

Following the ethos of Steven Jackson’s essay “Rethinking Repair,” the paper takes the “breakdown, erosion, and decay” of images as a starting point. Images change meaning over time as our cultural connections to them shift. Strategies of decoding and recoding are used to understand how these broken images are maintained or repaired.

Worldbuilding offers image-makers a sandbox in which these strategies can be tested and questioned. Drawing from speculative design practices, the paper looks at how illustration and design build on literature’s capabilities for making other futures or realities plausible enough that an audience can critically engage them. The paper unpacks exercises from activist and design communities, which act as tools to visualize our political imaginations. Building from prison abolitionist frameworks and collectives like Critical Resistance and Octavia’s Brood, the paper utilizes discursive questioning, drawing, and acts of “political looking” to decode our visual world.

Pitfalls are inevitable, ranging from uneasy truces between author and audience to the economic realities of working as a contemporary illustrator. The paper uses these pitfalls as fertile ground for questions and strategies that may later reveal revolutionary truths.



Program Chair

John Hendrix