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visual communication practice

Bonded Currency

Description of idea

Describe your idea and concept of your work in relation to the festival outlines:

Bonded labour or debt bondage is arguable one of the least known forms of slavery today yet is the most common method of human enslavement. Bonded labour is when a person’s labour is used as a method of repaying a loan. The labourer is often tricked or trapped with very little or no pay often for days on end without rest. Their debt can grow and grow and most of these labourers, being illiterate, find their debt growing substantially due to the corruption of their managers.
My idea originally stemmed from the idea of money being debt and debt being slavery. I wanted to draw comparisons between money and slavery and the true cost of what we are actually spending and what it means to different people. Every day we take for granted our currency, proud politicians or noble royalty gracing our notes and coins, but really what relevance do they have to the money they are on? To someone a world away from us the value of money can mean so much more then we realise. I have used depressing images of labourers in a familiar setting, on currency, in an attempt to show people the true value of money. To us $2 might mean a coin in the bottom of our bags we can buy a treat with but to another it may be their monthly earnings on which they need to feed a family with. They have been designed in a beautiful and bright way to contrast with the disturbing imagery so at first glance they look quite elegant and the colors immediately intrigue but upon closer inspection they reveal something a lot more sinister and confronts the viewer with something they may not have considered before. The idea behind the currency was to show the currency as debt and in this way I have shown one of the most extreme and brutal forms of debt, displayed in an elegant way.

What kind of communication approach do you use?

In my approach I used the idea of currency. Currency is something that is shared around and passed from person to person so in this sense it’s a good medium to get a message through. Obviously they haven’t been designed to be put in to production but they stand to send a message regardless. The idea of them being currency is what gives it value. Currency is always seen as a perfectly designed, authoritarian medium and people trust and respect it. When confronted with these disturbing images on a trusted medium it may cause people to stop and think and consider the wider social impact of debt. The goal of the currency design was to make the users of the currency stop and think, when they go to spend the 50c on something small, they would see the image and realize that although it’s a small amount to us, this is someone’s daily wage they must live off. It’s quite subtle in its communication of debt and debt bondage and requires the viewer to actively pick it up or zoom in to read the stories.

What are in your opinion concrete benefits to the society because of your communication?

It brings awareness to an otherwise little known issue. Most authorities on this issue agree that the way to get these people out of their debt bondage is to create awareness and an injection of cash would go a long way. It makes people stop and think about the value of money. What it means to them and what it may mean to other people who don’t take it for granted like we do in our society. Although it doesn’t call to any particular action it does call for an emotional response to get people to participate in creating awareness of the problem.

What did you personally learn from creating your submitted work?

When making this work, I learnt a lot about the practice of bonded labour, I read many stories from people in bondage and people who have managed to get free. I realize now it’s a lot more widespread then I previously thought and also about the conditions of these labourers. Many stories are quite saddening and really draw you in. It has made me so much more aware of the world we live in and through the process of researching and building these images it has encouraged me to research further and contribute where I can.

Why is your work, GOOD communication WORK?

It is good communication work because it encourages interaction. The text requires the viewer to get up close to read it. It also is subtle in its information, it hints at intended meanings but requires the viewer to make connections themselves to understand the true meaning without ‘spoon feeding’ it’s audience. One could also argue it is good communication work in that it is socially responsible work. It isn’t another piece of packaging that gets wasted and only serves to make one company richer; the goal of this currency is to create social awareness in an attempt to get this problem solved. Much like the Kony 2012 project, a problem must be made known to a greater audience before any real action takes place.

Where and how do you intent do implement your work?

It has been designed as a currency so ultimately it would be used as such however; it is more likely to be used moreso as a poster or interesting graphic to create awareness. The beauty of this piece is although its intended meaning was currency; it can also just as easily be used as a poster or even in magazines as a spread. It would also be circulated online to encourage interaction from a much larger audience and therefore receive much more awareness

Did your intervention had an effect on other Media. If yes, describe the effect? (Has other media reported on it- how? Were you able to change other media with your work- how?)


Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

Currency as a medium. Currency as a message.

Those ubiquitous pieces of paper rarely transmit any other message than that of the value they signify. This is where “Bonded Currency” finds its perfect niche.

From the artistic and formal standpoint those bills are elegantly executed, thus fulfilling the communication end of the bargain. They attract and they are visually pleasing. That usually sounds like a standard tool of the market communication system, but with the additional value.

Attempts to raise awareness often fail not because of the message, but because of the medium, although the two can be interchangeable.

Sometimes, there is a lack of empathy for someone else’s suffering no matter how powerful the message or its execution are. You need to make people identify themselves with the suffering.

“Bonded Currency” directs our attention effectively towards the problem of cheap labor. Every time you buy a packet of chewing gum with one of these bills you would be unmistakably reminded that many other earn that value during their entire work week. More importantly, you would be reminded of how much you are bonded to the same system. With no option to opt out.

There are plenty of possibilities for expanding this project, such as towards the fluctuations of the value of “bonded currency” or creating regional “bonded currency” that depends on the local conditions.

View other works commented by Aleksandar Maćašev  ››

Bonded Currency is another work that stands as a proposal for future development. If Ootje Oxenaar and Jan Van Toorn were to collaborate, this might just be the result. The decisions surrounding the imagery and narratives depicted in and on currency are nothing short of nation-building exercises, but they are also hopelessly epic, naive and simplistic, often if not always overshadowing the specificities and struggles of achieving independence, democracy, solidarity etc.

The initial formal qualities show promise, and work well within the accepted international norms of currency design. The complexity and detail of engraved notes however is not seen as of yet, and these details might provide further nuance capable of supporting other types of subversive critique within the same format. Security is also another issue not dealt with here in any significant way...the ability or inability of current to be forged, copied, counterfeited...would this currency be easy or difficult to copy? would the penalty for such activity be harsh, or would it be an incentive? In this sense, the proposal needs to consider other types of critique outside of the immediate visual occupation of the image area with social realism. While these images serve an initial jolt of recognition, what next? What is buried in the form of the note that we cannot immediate see, or feel?

Braille, watermarks, holograms, shifts in colour, size, shape - all of these formal characteristics are open to manipulation and subversion.

Again, as an initial proposal Bonded Currency offers a strong direction for further extrapolation into a more fully-realized critique.

View other works commented by Roderick Grant  ››

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Curators comments

This work has been commented by 2 curator(s):
Aleksandar Maćašev Roderick Grant go to comments ›

Entry details


Bonded Currency


Bonded Currency

Concept author(s)

Daniel Bell

Concept author year(s) of birth


Concept author(s) contribution

Designer of entire work



Competition category

visual communication practice

Competition subcategory


Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

Queensland College of Art Visual Communication Design