Category Archives: protest

Get Up, Stand Up! Changing the world with posters

If ever you’re in Brussels this summer, don’t miss Get Up, Stand Up – Changing The World With Posters (1968 – 1973) at the MIMA museum. I had never been to the MIMA before. Mostly because i’m lazy and crossing the canal seemed like a Herculean task when i’m in town with only a few hours and a long list of exhibitions to see. Well, that was a stupid excuse! MIMA is a wonderful place to visit. The art space is committed “to a culture that breaks down barriers and reaches out to a broad audience, reflecting the world of today and paving the way for the world of tomorrow.” That’s what most cultural centers claim to do these days but rare are those that fulfill these promises as convincingly as MIMA does. Not only did i see people from all ages and cultural background when i spent a few hours there but each of the visitors seemed to be genuinely excited about the exhibition.

John Sposato, Power to the penis, 1970

MIMA’s programme is relentlessly surprising and attractive. Previous shows have looked at creative vandalism, invasive installations, comic book aesthetic, etc. Anything labelled ‘subcultural’, anything with humour, bite and a resonance with the contemporary finds a home in this ex-Belle-Vue brewery. There’s a reason why MIMA stands for ‘Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art’.

The MIMA museum along the canal. Photos by MIMA

Lambert Studios, War is good business: invest your son, c. 1969

View of the exhibition space. Photos by MIMA

The current exhibition, Get Up, Stand Up, is dedicated to protest posters created between 1968 and 1973. These were six years of civil unrest where people demonstrated against war, racial discrimination, dictatorship, patriarchy, violence towards the environment, etc. Protestors had a powerful and new ally in their fights: screen printing (or serigraphy). The technique was fast, cheap and simple to learn.

The posters that used to be instruments of protest and antagonism have now become objects of aesthetic interest. In spite of that and in spite of being half a century old, the images and slogans have lost nothing of their strength, nor sadly of their relevance. Today we have hashtags and other social media tools but we’re still yearning for equality, freedom and justice.

The 400 posters from 30 countries have been selected by Michaël Lellouche, a film maker and a writer who, over the past few years, has collected more than 1600 posters printed during those 6 eventful years.

Here’s a pick of some of the posters exhibited. You can see more of them on MIMA’s website, i’m also copy/pasting their descriptions (with minor changes and added links):

Anonymous, Break the Dull Steak Habit, also known as “Cattle Queen”, 1968

On the 7th of September 1968 in Atlantic City, a few hours before the election of Miss America, a hundred activists from the New York Radical Women binned various attributes of female submission: mops, false eyelashes, hair curlers, bras or issues of Playboy. They brandished placards in the effigy of historical heroines of feminism such as Lucy Stone or Sojourner Truth and this poster showing the degrading way beauty pageants turned women into little more than prime cuts of meat in “cattle markets”.

Guerrilla Girls, If you’re raped, you might as well “relax and enjoy it,” because no one will believe you, 1992

Free the Panthers

In January 1969, three attempted explosions failed in New York, targeting in particular two police precincts. On the 2nd of April, 21 people were arrested, all members of the Black Panther Party. They were charged with attempted bombing and conspiracy, and their bail was set at 100,000 dollars each. One of those arrested, Afeni Shakur, 24 (pregnant with the future musician Tupac Shakur), decided to defend herself without a lawyer during the eight-month trial. Her remarkable pleadings would mark public opinion. Due to a lack of evidence, all were acquitted in May 1971.

Emory Douglas, Untitled (On the Bones of the Oppressors), 1969

Emory Douglas became the resident artist of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s. Appointed Minister of Culture, he created most of the posters and illustrations of the official weekly “The Black Panther”.

Anonymous, Bobby Seale Kidnappé

In August 1968, Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was accused of conspiracy and incitement to riot. At the so-called Chicago Seven trial, having asked to defend himself, he was tied up and gagged in full court before being prosecuted in a separate trial.

Anonymous, Move on Over or We’ll Move on Over You, circa 1967

Anonymous, Indian power, 1971

On the 27th of February 1973, 200 Oglala Sioux Indians and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) took over the small town of Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reserve, South Dakota. They were protesting against the alleged corrupt management of tribal leader Richard Wilson and the United States government’s failure to fulfill treaties with Native American people. Wounded Knee was chosen for its symbolic significance – it was the site of the massacre of more than 200 Indian civilians by the US military in 1890.

Marlon Brando, who was due to receive an Oscar for The Godfather, had his acceptance speech read out by Sacheen Littlefeather, an apache activist and the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. Brando boycotted the ceremony in protest of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans and to draw attention to the standoff at Wounded Knee. His gesture relaunched media attention on Wounded Knee.

Anonymous, Train Now

In the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign, marked in the spring of 1968 by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, this poster proved to be a hard-hitting and provocative one. The Vietnam War looked set to require more young soldiers. But who is shooting whom?

Anonymous, And Babies?

In October 1969, the Art Workers Coalition (AWC) was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art of New York to create a poster denouncing the war in Vietnam. The AWC decided to use a photograph taken by the army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle after the My Lai Massacre. They then superimposed on the image the confession that Private Paul Meadlo made during an interview when he admitted that yes, babies were killed.

The MoMA refused to distribute the poster, deemed to be too shocking. The AWC printed 50,000 copies and during a blitz operation at the MoMA, on the 26th of December 1969, activists brandished it in front of Picasso’s Guernica, on loan by Spain. The symbol was unmistakeable: the Americans had joined the Nazis in their barbarism.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon, The War Is Over!, 1969

On the 15th of December 1969 New Yorkers discovered in giant letters on Times Square the information: “The war is over!” The small print tempered the good news. In this poster, John Lennon and Yoko Ono incite civil disobedience, encouraging people to be active rather than passive. Translated into several languages, the campaign was displayed in 11 cities around the world.

Dutch poster, by the anarchist environmentalist movement Provo

George Maciunas, U.S.A. Surpasses All the Genocide Records, c.1966

The American flag was also to come under the fire of foreign countries and American artists. George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus Artistic Movement, created a flag denouncing the mass killings perpetrated by the United States. Thousands of copies of the poster went on to be sold with a leaflet listing the most morbid statistics.

Atelier Populaire, La Lutte Continue, 1968

Atelier populaire, La police s’affiche aux Beaux-Arts, 1968

Last poster of the famous Atelier populaire, in response to the police raid in the premises of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts on the 27th of June 1968.

That’s All Folks!

Views of the exhibition space (all photos by MIMA):

Julio Le Parc, Frappez les gradés, 1971

Get Up, Stand Up – Changing The World With Posters (1968 – 1973) is at MIMA in Brussels until 30 September 2018.

Artists vs. London’s massive Arms Fair

Peter Kennard, Warhead 3, 2017

Darren Cullen / Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives, New War, 2017

This September, London will once again host one of the world’s largest arms fairs. The event brings dictatorships and human rights abusers together with some of the biggest arms companies. The fair that sells everything that can maim, kill, wound, and hurt people is euphemistically called Defence & Security Equipment International.

In the past, campaigners have discovered that illegal torture equipment were sold at DSEI, including electric shock stun guns and batons, cluster bombs, leg-irons, as well as body and gang-chains. It’s not just illegal trade that raises concerns though. As UK-based NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) explains, the vast majority of arms sold around the world, including those to human rights abusing governments or into conflict areas, are legal and actively supported by governments. Some of these arms are used by state-nations on foreign battlegrounds but also on the streets, against their own rebelling citizens.

Peter Kennard, Stop the Arms Fair 2, 2017

Protest Stencil, ‘Wear Your Poppy With Pride’ Imperial Stormtrooper bus stop poster, from the series #WeAreTheEmpire, November 2016

Most people in London don’t even know about the existence of the arm fair. DSEI doesn’t partner with mainstream media, nor does it welcome the visit of Amnesty International experts.

The artists and activists of Art the Arms Fair want to raise awareness about the arms fair and the deadly consequences of selling arms with an exhibition held in opposition to DSEI. Three tube stops away from the arms fair, artist-run SET Space will host an exhibition of art works that shine a light on the arms fair and the impact it has on millions of lives across the world. Hundreds of artists have submitted work, including Guerrilla Girls, Peter Kennard & Darren Cullen. Work will be sold to support the work of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

POPX, Stop Wars

The successful 2012 Disarm the Gallery campaign

Human rights campaigners walk alongside the queue for taxis to the Farnborough International arms fair as part of a protest against arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in human rights abuses in Yemen, London, UK. 11th July, 2016

Amy Corcoran, Life and Death, 2017

You can still get involved and support Art the Arms Fair by participating as an artist, volunteering, donating and of course by checking out the programme of exhibitions and performances. ART THE ARMS FAIR is at SET Space in London on 12 – 15 September 2017.

Previously: World of Warfare, a day at the arms dealers fair, Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, Book review: Drone. Remote Control Warfare, Book review: Future War, Book review: A Theory of the Drone and Eyes from a distance. Personal encounters with military drones.

Disobedient Electronics: Protest

I find myself the very lucky and very pleased recipient of the Disobedient Electronics booklet edited and hand-crafted by Garnet Hertz.

Disobedient Electronics. Photo by Garnet Hertz

The booklet’s manifesto calls for more design (or art) that gets out of the sleek graduation shows and galleries, confronts sociopolitical issues head-on and bites back. As he sums up, “Design can be how to punch Nazis in the face, minus the punching.” Hertz isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers when he writes in his intro to the publication that:

1. Building electronic objects can be an effective form of social argument or political protest.
2. DIY, maker culture and local artisinal productions can have strong nationalist and protectionist components to them – in some senses, populism can be seen as the rise of the DIY non-expert.
3. Critical and Speculative Design (Dunne & Raby) are worthwhile approaches within industrial design, but perhaps not adversarial enough to reply to contemporary populist right-wing movements (Brexit, Trump & Le Pen). Questions like “Is it moral to punch Nazis in the face?” should be answered with smart alternatives to violence that are provocative pieces of direct action.
4. If we are living in a post-truth time, we should focus on trying to make progressive arguments and facts more legible and engaging to a wide and diverse audience.
5. The fad of ‘Maker Culture’ is over. Arduinos and 3D printers are fascinating things, but the larger issues of what it means to be a human or a society needs to be directly confronted.

A few months ago, Hertz issued a call for submissions and published some of the most inspiring answers he received. Some are works i was familiar with (but always happy to find again in new context and with new texts written by the artists/activists/designers) such as the Abortion Drone by the ever brilliant Women on Waves (& Collaborators), Julian Oliver‘s Transparency Grenade, Román Torre and Ángeles Angulo’s Thero device that allows you to physically manage your data traffic, Eizo Ishikawa and Tamon Sawangdee’s Tamon CRAF, the paperplane machine for protests , I.E.D. (Improvised Empathetic Device) by Matt Kenyon and Doug Easterly, the Barbie Liberation Organization generously offers a Barbie/G.I. Joe home surgery manual, the Institute for Applied Autonomy‘s Robotic Graffiti Writer, etc.

Annina Rüst, A Piece of the Pie Chart. Photo via Unframed

I also discovered some smart ideas and projects that were completely new to me. There’s Annina Rüst’s A Piece of the Pie Chart, a feminist food robot that visualizes the gender gap in art and tech on edible pies. Or The 79% Work Clock that sounds an alarm 79% of the way through the work day to remind us that after a certain time of the day, women stop being paid for their work. Neil MacAloney’s description of Phantom Kitty, a (work in progress) device that would turn on whenever you’re not using the computer, sounds very promising. The tool would perform online searches and open websites, throwing in a vast amount of misinformation into internet tracking activity, rendering data gathering pointless.

Pedro G. C. Oliveira and Xuedi Chen, Backslash (ROUTER. Off-Grid Network)

The works i found most interesting were Pedro G. C. Oliveira and Xuedi Chen’s Backslash, a series of open source functional devices that help activists communicate during a network blackout. I was also very impressed with the Automated Doorbell and Decorative Wreath made by with the Feminist Maker Space at the University of Texas in protest of Campus Carry, a law that provides that license holders may carry a concealed handgun throughout university campuses.

Matt Walker, Device for the Emancipation of the Landscape

There are more projects in the book (all dutifully listed on the webpage of Disobedient Electronics) but i’d like to end with the one i found most touching: Matt Walker’s Device for the Emancipation of the Landscape. This sound-cannon collects sounds from the surrounding landscape through its “mouth.” The field-recordings are then mixed and projected back into urban or industrial sites, opening up the space of authority and offering an opportunity to reflect on both the human impact and treatment of landscape.

Disobedient Electronics: Protest (Pre-production Proof – version 2017 April 28)

I love the booklet: the hand-made format, the colour, the whole impetus behind its creation, most of the works included (or rather i love ALL of the works included, i just felt that some of them were only scratching on the surface and wouldn’t reach anyone beyond the usual art/activist audiences). Disobedient Electronics is a great starting point for a much-needed discussion about how art, design and creative practices in general can challenge issues such as homophobia, sexism, racism, economic inequalities, political status-quo, etc. I think that in general media art and interactive design are far too complacent when it comes to creating socially-engaged works. Too often, the projects are more about getting some attention from bloggers and festival curators and less about directly getting to grips with a specific issue. Or reaching out to the ‘general’ public.

I would love more publications like Disobedient Electronics, with artists from other parts of the world for example. If Hertz makes another issue, i’ll definitely send something.

There are only 300 copies of the booklet available, if you feel you can contribute in any way to the project, Hertz might send you one of the last copies for free…

Disobedient Electronics. Photo by Garnet Hertz

Disobedient Electronics. Photo by Garnet Hertz

Disobedient Electronics. Photo by Garnet Hertz

Disobedient Electronics. Photo by Garnet Hertz

Previously: Critical Making and an Interview with Garnet Hertz.

Destructables, DIY for protest and creative dissent

GMO Food Warning Labels

I’ve just started working on a new talk i’ll be giving in the coming days at the Art Activism Easter School. The theme is the dissemination of artistic/activist practices. During my research, i discovered a brilliant resource for DIY projects of protest and creative dissent. It’s called Destructables and it was started by one of my heroes: Packard Jennings. He of the Anarchist Action Figure and outrageous Business Reply pamphlets.

Destructables is a website packed with recipes for protest, subversion, hijacking and disruption. The target are superstores, banks, police, corporate villains, etc. Some of these DIY instructions might come in handy nowadays. They go from The Center for Tactical Magic‘s guide to hold up a bank to Jennings’ Chemical Bananas sticker that denounce the use of carcinogenic pesticides by banana companies, to a guide to stealing from your employer (if your employer happens to be a bank), to a booklet in which the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) shows you how to ‘improve’ billboards, to Lucas Murgida‘s tutorial of how to drill open a standard door lock, to Copwatch‘s downloadable pamphlets to discourage/attempt to stop police brutality and harassment.’ And lots more.

Packard Jennings, Bible Stickers

My favourite DIY are the Bible Stickers that you can download and give to your friends with the instruction to stick them to the inside jacket of the Bible you will find in your hotel room. The sticker reads: “This Bible contains material on creationism. Creationism is a parable, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material was written by normal men almost two thousand years ago and should be approached with an open mind and critically considered.”

Packard Jennings, Pocket Survival Guide

Packard Jennings, Walgreens Local Business Coupon

The Freedom Fighter’s Manual, 1983

Destructables also features historical documents such as a US military instructional booklet to explain how to load and drop a propaganda bomb (World War II), an ‘How to Surrender’ US propaganda leaflet (Gulf War, 1991), The Freedom Fighter’s Manual dropped by the CIA over Nicaragua in 1983 to invite citizens to cause civil disorder, an Egyptian Guide to Revolution (with translation) designed to arm Egyptian protestors with practical advice (1991), the PDF of the Demonstrations chapter from Abbie Hoffman‘s 1971 Steal This Book, etc.