© 2020 Abigail Sarver-Verhey

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bringing documents to life

For this project, I was tasked with creating an exhibition on money laundering. The topic turned out to be an interesting challenge, both in explaining the process of illegal dealings and in showcasing a selection of objects that were primarily legal documents. I developed a variety of narrative and design solutions that made the complex content approachable and exciting, yet clearly showed the dark side of economic misdeeds.



The title wall introduces visitors to the exhibition through a washing machine door full of spinning green plastic bills. The sound of a spinning washing machine echoes rhythmically around them.


While the term “money laundering” is fairly well- known, many visitors may not actually understand it very well. An introduction panel just past the exhibition entrance helps to give some background on the topic.


The exhibition is divided into sections named with laundry phrases. These metaphors help visitors to more readily make sense of the complex legal processes involved in laundering money.


"Stain," the first section of the exhibition, explores illicit businesses that need to launder their profits.


Oversized graphic illustrations of business façades cover the walls of the hexagonal room, featuring case studies of money laundering crimes. Tangible and auditory artifacts from the five case studies are displayed, including business cards of victims of a local official convicted of embezzlement, a wired briefcase used in the takedown of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and a recorded phone call made by arms dealer Iman Kobeissi.


The final wall focuses on infamous bootlegger Al Capone.The illustrated graphic of a 1920s laundromat is raised out from the wall, creating a combined 2D/3D effect that blends with the rest of the space but creates surprise when visitors realize that they can walk through it as if they are stepping into the drawn world.


As visitors step into the laundromat, they see a bank of washing machine shadowboxes that tell the story, scene by scene, of how the law enforcement officials chasing Capone first coined the phrase “money laundering.”


Across the room Al Capone’s story is explored further with a display of the luxury goods he purchased with his dirty profits, composed of both actual artifacts and recreations based on a FBI list of his expenses.


The next section, "Load," looks at the first phase in the process of laundering money - getting dirty money into the banking system.


Electronic banks can be a hotbed of money laundering activity, as evidenced by the Liberty Reserve Bank site. Court transcripts from the case are brought to life through pop-up courtroom sketches.

Informal Value Transfer Systems (informal, trust-based banking systems popular in the Middle East and India) are another common money laundering method. Visitors learn how they work through a digital interactive in which they act out a money exchange, legally or illegally. 


A displaying of currency provides an engaging infographic on the top countries for money laundering activity.


A web of glowing cables overhead forms a visual representation of the next stage of the money laundering process, "Wash,” where launderers are moving their funds around in order to obfuscate their criminal origin. 


Exhibits emphasize the illegal nature of money laundering. Through photographs and video, they show the economic aftermath of shell banks on the island of Nauru and the imbalanced consequences of practice of hiring "smurfs," people who are often coerced into doing the dirty work of laundering money.


A digital tabletop interactive gives visitors a chance to manage the processing of good and bad wire transfers, showing what banks do to combat money laundering.


This section also highlights Meyer Lanskey, a
twentieth-century mobster often called the “father of money laundering,” through historical video interviews and artifacts from the casinos he ran.

Fabric "laundry tag" style banners provide the introductory text for each section, playing up the laundry metaphor.


The third and final stage,“Wear,” explores how criminals get the proceeds of their crimes back in their wallet–and what they do with them.


Casinos are a hotbed of money laundering activity, and chips from some of Macau's biggest casinos set the scene for discussing the activity that has made the resort destination one of the most notorious money laundering sites.


The focal point of this section is a large display of assets seized from money launderers. Arranged on a podium, these luxury objects form a tableau that impresses upon the visitor the extent of the profits of money laundering, but also shows the fragility of ill-gotten wealth. Among these objects are the former belongings of famous fraudsters, including Imelda Marcos’ shoes and Bernie Madoff’s desk, luxury goods such as a sportscar and jewelry, and replica illegal drugs.


Graphic panels form an archway over the door out of the exhibition, evoking jail bars and displaying a massive "1%," the percentage of money launderers that are ever caught. This leaves visitors with a sense of the scope of money laundering and a wariness that is intended to prompt increased concern about the issue.

explore the project more...

exhibition development

big idea

Money laundering–hiding the origins of illicitly gained money–is a complex process with far-reaching consequences.



  • Adults

  • Older teens

  • People with an interest in true crime and the history of crime



COGNITIVE goals (visitors will...)

  • Understand why people  launder money 

  • Learn the process of money laundering

  • Learn about the history and practice of crime

  • Understand the economic and moral consequences of money laundering


AFFECTIVE goals (visitors will...)

  • Be shocked by the extent of a major criminal issue they may not have previously known about 

  • Be surprised by the impact of money laundering on their  own lives

  • Feel concern about the crime of money laundering and desire to see it prevented and prosecuted


experiential goals (visitors will...)

  • Use the methods criminals use to launder money

  • Use the methods police use to catch money launderers

  • Witness both the high profits and harsh consequences of money laundering

  • Feel both the criminal and socioeconomic impacts of money laundering

concept map

bubble diagram

floor plan

experience type map

exhibition checklist


primary label graphics

section intro label graphics