An untitled 2020 ink print on vintage paper from the Nia Wilson/Say Her Name/No Silence series by Hunter Saxony III, aka The Last Black Calligrapher in SF. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
A jumpsuit and gloves designed by performance art group Brick x Brick for the 2017 Human Wall demonstrations. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
Clifford Harper’s “Keep Warm, Burn Out the Rich” political patch from the 1980s. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
A facsimile of an anti-slavery broadside circa 1854. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
‘Justice for Mona’ by Egyptian muralist Ganzer from the 2020 series, ‘Of Course the Army Protected the Revolution’ | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
Atelier Populaires “Yes to the revolution! (Oui à la révolution!), a 1968 screenprint on newsprint. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
An ‘Art for AIDS’ poster by Martin Venezky for Appetite Engineers | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
A Feminist Majority Foundation 2021 reissue of the 1979 protest sign for the Yes to ERA movement. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
A 1935 letterpress image by an unknown designer for Roberto Hinojosa’s “Social Justice in Mexico” or “Justicia Social en Mexico”. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
A “silence = death” t-shirt. | Courtesy of Letterform Archive
From Keith Haring to Shepard Fairey, many famous artists have left their mark on political and protest art.
But the mission of Crossed out: Typographic protest messages— a new exhibition of social justice-focused art opening this weekend at the Letterform Archive — aims to bring together grassroots artists/activists alongside professional imagemakers.
“That’s actually one of the themes throughout the show,” said Stephen Coles, Editor-in-Chief and Associate Curator, Letterform Archive. “Professional designers sit next to ordinary people who now have the tools to make something to spread their message.”
Coles, also co-curator of Crossed outassembled a collection of broadsides, buttons, shields, T-shirts, posters and ephemera from the 1800s to the present day with guest curator Silas Munro of the Polymode design studio in Los Angeles.
Divided into five distinct sections of activist action – VOTE!, RESIST!, LOVE!, TEACH!, and STRIKE! – the exhibition illustrates the power of protest art in social justice movements through a historical cross section of image makers.
A handcrafted collage created by a Black Lives Matter protester crosses paths with a typographic image created by a nationally recognized graphic designer. Buttons and patches from anti-fascist and punk rock movements are displayed alongside protest posters created by professional artists. And the imagery and iconography of politically themed T-shirts carry as much weight as the messages on the protest posters, underscoring another subtle theme of the exhibition – the intersection of the body and protest art.
“One of the things we wanted to show is not just political posters or signs, but also the way people have used typography, even on their bodies,” said Coles. “Typography isn’t being removed from people… Lots of it [items] talking about very human personal issues, and one of the most personal ways to get your message across is by actually wearing it.”
For example, performance art group Brick x Brick designed a series of overalls – one of which is on display in the exhibition – that its members would wear at demonstrations to protest former President Donald Trump’s proposal to walk along a wall to build the US-Mexico border. The overalls feature black and white brick-shaped squares, reminiscent of a brick wall, and derogatory words and phrases Trump would use to describe women on colorful patches.
Another notable item in the exhibit is a 1979 screen-printed tank top by an unknown designer, commemorating San Francisco’s historic White Night Riots, which began in response to the light-hearted sentencing of former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, who killed the Castro District Supervisor Harvey Milk then assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. The item was donated to the Letterform Archive by a volunteer living in Castro at the time. It sits alongside an eye-catching “Silence = Death” t-shirt that became an iconic slogan and wearable iconography during the 1980s AIDS crisis.
“That’s one of the most powerful ways to talk about what’s important to you, to actually have it on your body and just go through the day with that message on your chest,” Coles said.
And of course take it to the streets.
In the end, Munro and Coles hope the exhibition can empower budding artists and activists.
“I think part of my hopes for this show is that the people who aren’t always invited to talk about design or think about design are welcome to attend the show,” Munro said.
“We just want people to get away from that thinking, ‘Okay, you know, I care about something.’ I can also create art, although I may not have any experience with it,” said Coles.
Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest begins with a reception from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Letterform Archive’s Dogpatch Gallery on Saturday, July 23. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Visit letterformarchive.org to RSVP or watch a virtual preview of the show.
Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected].
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