Art student makes designer bomb vests

Symbols are powerful tools of communication. When words just aren’t enough to express a thought or emotion, symbols often step in and take their place. However, as the world becomes increasingly commercialized, symbols have developed a different purpose in society. Words have taken a back seat in advertising, as corporations such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Nike are able to attract consumers to buy their products with simple, culturally-embedded symbols.

“[This project is] about creating an object, an idea that is worth discussing,” explains Broadbent. “There are some statements built into this, but my first objective was to deal with relevant, current-day topics like the politics of the time, and to do it in a way that causes dialogue.”

Though suicide bombing is a taboo topic for people in western societies, Broadbent believes the average person receives the bulk of their knowledge about suicide bombing from the mainstream media. While he says his project is not directed specifically towards the media, he admits it does unavoidably encompass it. As it involves issues of race and religion, suicide bombing is also an extremely sensitive issue. In an attempt to approach the issue in a subversive way, Broadbent came up with the idea of using a corporate entity to reveal his art.

“I know that when you are dealing with an issue like this, that it is obviously racially sensitive,” he says. “But to raise it this way, is to raise it in a way that is not directed at any one ethnic group or any one religion specifically. I understand the sensitivity around this and I understand this is a serious topic. This has never at any time been a joke; it’s been a pretty serious endeavour.”

As the vests evolved into the entity of Tromos, the project took on a number of different facets, including the advertising campaign which Broadbent spent much of last semester working on. The aim of this campaign was to draw people in through the use of images, including the notorious symbol which Broadbent hand-designed, and then completely catch them off guard when the actual ‘product’ being marketed was revealed.

“A lot of advertising tends to be deceptive in that it is misleading,” says Broadbent. “[The corporations] are only going to give you the part of the story that helps sell something. Really, you can market anything if you are careful in how you do it.”

Tromos’ advertising cards are printed with the statement “self-sacrifice or suicide.” Without knowledge of the art itself, this statement could be interpreted in a number of ways; however, once it is connected to the vests, the discussion Broadbent intends to invoke becomes clear. While Broadbent wouldn’t comment on his own personal opinion of suicide bombing, he believes self-sacrifice is more prevalent in our society than the average person may recognize.

“It’s a universal human trait, whether you’re talking about soldiers or parents giving up for their children,” he says. “The Tromos Corporation, to optimize profit, has re-branded ‘suicide bombing’ as ‘self-sacrifice.'”

Originally, Broadbent intended to reveal the vests next week in a presentation in That Empty Space; however, campus security has since requested that it be moved to a performance theatre or classroom. Campus Security director Lanny Fritz explains the emotionally charged nature of the subject was a concern for public safety.

“The university is a place for academic freedom and intellectual debate,” says Fritz. “But individual rights to free speech must be balanced against the community’s right to work and study in safety–free from potentially alarming and offensive displays.”

Broadbent says he has no expectations for the future of his project and will not speculate about the public’s reaction. Although his original project has expanded into something much larger than the vests themselves, Broadbent stresses the vests are still just art –even if they seem to dangle from the border between the art world and reality.

“Anything is art, it just depends on the context,” he says. “Obviously [the project] was, from day one, an art project. The projects themselves have to exist in the art world and not outside.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.