By Shanice Da Costa

A kaleidoscope for your toolbox

In the warm spring of 2021, amidst the heart of a pandemic, UNHCR’s Innovation Service explored the dimly lit edges of imagination and speculative storytelling. The Innovation Service refreshing dew also gathered hums of collaborating fireflies. These edges, defining what would become Project Unsung, reframed and reassessed so much of what was predefined and rarely questioned., As a representative firefly, I got to lead some of the visual language that interlocked fingers with some of the wonderful articles that sprouted from Unsung. 

When I was first introduced to the collective, I was taken for what could only be described as an exploratory sailing adventure between these tiny islands that were created and overseen by the fireflies. Thus, the only logical way my heart could illustrate this journey was to draw a map (page 2) marked by lakes, isles, forests and mountain peaks, sprinkled with portals (as depicted by the crystals) to the different worlds created by Unsung’s fireflies. This map marked the central theme for the rest of the visuals. Reminiscent of the stories we read in our childhood and representative of our unapologetic imagination, the artwork that you’ll find in the nooks of this collective touches the fabrics of worldbuilding, belonging, loss, but also justice and hope. 

The art direction of the publication however did not always touch upon some of the fantasy and science fiction imagery that dresses the final version. In the beginning, we assumed Unsung would be a little seedling, a small zine by a small group of creatives bringing their stories to perhaps a smaller audience. The design desire seemed to resonate with diary-keeping and scrapbooking, very personal and rich in individual depth. But just as marigolds bloom swiftly when given space and protection, so did Unsung bloom, rewilding the edges faster than the golden flowers could a mountain. And so, the imagery evolved. Within the lines that define some of the illustrations, you will see fleeting themes of magical nature, of spaces between humans beings and within human beings, of interdimensional relationships and sometimes simply of clouds and birds (what better way to illustrate hope than to draw the things we see when we keep our eyes on the horizon). But there are two sides to every coin, and when we flip this one, you will also find vulnerability, grief and rupture. As fault lines are to our planet, so is deconstruction to growth, and the art is meant to reflect just that. 

From fiction to nonfiction, from poetry to 3D provocations of unraveling, from collages to meditative drawings, imagination reveals itself in a multitude of forms, and the visuals for Unsung only scratch the surface on all of the contributing fireflies’ visions. My own vision for this edition is to invite you to see Unsung as a kaleidoscope that accesses multiple dimensions of discontinuity, histories and futures. To see and unsee, and to not just reimagine bridges but to reimagine staying put. Rupture, maintenance and repairing are required in the act of speculation, and art allows us to manifest these imagined paths. I hope you take the work curated here as a primer into the possibilities we believe can be tapped into if you’ll take inspiration from the lit pathways our fireflies drew on the edge of the present world.

This page is part of UNHCR’s Project Unsung collection and portfolio. Project Unsung is a speculative storytelling project that brings together creative collaborators from around the world to help reimagine the humanitarian sector. To discover move about the initiative and other contributions in the collection, you can go to the project website here.