The Dramatic Effectiveness of Political Art
Truthdig! - December 2017
In recent years, the shocking murders of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police have horrified people throughout the nation and the world. The killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York City, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif., Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., and many others reveal the horrific pattern of police brutality and misconduct in the United States. The mysterious deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore after a rough ride in a police van and Sandra Bland’s so-called suicide in a Texas jailhouse only underscore the dangers that people of color have faced from police authorities for centuries.
Most of these atrocities are well known because of extensive media coverage. Still, the public should be reminded of the deeper historical roots of these tragic events in order to place them into a coherent yet disconcerting context. In that vein, two venerable Los Angeles public arts organizations have collaborated to present one of the most powerful and effective political art exhibitions in recent years. The Center for the Study of Political Graphics has organized an exhibit drawn from its massive collection of political posters, the most recent of 30 years of distinguished poster exhibitions on multiple themes.
... Many of the posters address recent issues and events, including the grotesque police murders of unarmed African-Americans. Some of these vibrant and effective posters address the efforts of Black Lives Matter in raising national consciousness about black targets of American police; the continuing resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline of American Indians and their supporters at Standing Rock, N.D.; the notoriously racist and unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy of the New York City Police Department; the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids against undocumented women, men and children across the country; the Occupy movement protests throughout the U.S. and many other countries and police brutality against the demonstrators; the racial profiling in Arizona against Latina and Latinos under the notorious SB 1070 law, enforced by the odious former Sheriff Joe Arpaio; and the unspeakably horrible murders of hundreds of women in Juarez, Mexico.
While some of these struggles have abated (temporarily), others have continued. These contemporary posters remind viewers of the pressing problems in our pervasively flawed nation and world. They also serve to galvanize political opposition to some of the most glaring injustices of the early 21st century.
What makes this exhibition so remarkable, however, is its deep historical reach. The organizers have performed an invaluable public service by using poster art to show the long and dishonorable history of police brutality and official governmental repression that has spawned resistance among multiple segments of American society over the decades. Some of the graphics in this show are strikingly useful educational tools for teachers at many levels. The scheduling is particularly fortuitous in my own case: Beginning in January, I will be teaching an honors seminar on political art at UCLA, and I plan to arrange a class field trip to SPARC during the show’s run. ...
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