From Daoud Sarhandi in the Autumn 2003 issue of eye magazine:
“El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, a city of 1.5m people in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, are less than four km apart. Yet no two cities could be economically further apart. The shantytowns spread out around Juárez are home to a vast number of indigenous migrant workers who come there from the unemployment black spots of the agrarian south. Many hope to go further, ‘la otro lado’ [to the other side], but most get stuck in the slums, working all hours, earning barely enough to survive.
Women — many as young as fourteen — comprise 70 per cent of the Juárez workforce. They eke out a four-dollar-a-day living in the maquiladoras — sweatshop factories that have mushroomed along the border since Mexico signed up to the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992. Yet in addition to exploitation and squalor, the women of Ciudad Juárez are oppressed by a murder rate that has attracted worldwide revulsion.
Statistics show that since 1993, at least 300 young women have been kidnapped, raped and killed — their bodies often defiled. Some 190 of these murders have occurred in the past six months; during the same period nearly 100 more have gone missing, presumed dead. The real toll may be higher, since many women do not have families living locally and their disappearances can go unnoticed and unreported. An open letter sent to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights by angry Juárez residents puts the ‘disappeared’ figure at 450 in the past ten years.
In the face of almost unbelievable official apathy and police incompetence, a group of graphic designers from Mexico City invited colleagues to express their concern and outrage by designing posters around the slogan ‘The Woman of Juárez Demand Justice’.
The first design activity — initially proposed by Rafael López Castro — was timed to coincide with last year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November 2002), when protest marches against the Juárez killings took place in several towns. Nine designers produced a series of images for a support group working in Ciudad Juárez, which then distributed them to other groups dealing with domestic violence. Alejandro Magallanes and Leonel Sagahón, two designers at the centre of this project, point out that the designers gave away their images, encouraging the protest groups to apply their own text and messages.
Organised by Arnulfo Aquino and Xavier Bermúdez to mark International Women’s Day, the second event took place in March 2003. An exhibition of more than 60 large-format images by designers from all over the country was staged in a Mexico City metro station. Displays and exhibitions are often mounted in these big spaces: in a city of 20m-plus they are seen by huge numbers of people who may not often visit museums and galleries. Though Magallanes and Sagahón find several of the posters totally inappropriate, even offensive, no designs were censored from the exhibition.
López Castro notes an honest, if sometimes naíve, attempt to deal with a tough issue: the relationship between the sexuality of young, poor women, rape and murder. It has often been observed that the victims fit a series of patterns: apart from the fact that almost all come from the lower economic strata, the majority are in their teens, slim, attractive, and with long dark hair. Irresponsible local officials in Chihauhau have often blamed the girls themselves for the killings, citing the fact that they were out late and alone, or were wearing short skirts and make-up. Many designers saw these crimes — and the official reaction — as an attack on femininity itself.
López believes that the strength of this project rests in its role as a ‘collective shout’, intended to wake up the general population and the authorities. ‘It is important to see real problems,’ says Sagahón, ‘not just ‘design’ and ‘communication’ problems. We are designers, but we are also citizens, and we are also people.’
‘It was amazing,’ says Magallanes, ‘to see whole families standing in front of these posters and talking about this very difficult subject.’ One outcome of this publicity is that rather than continuing to rely on the hopelessly ad hoc investigative methods of the Chihuahua law enforcement agencies, the office of the Federal Prosecutor has now decided to investigate a number of the murders on behalf of the national government. Yet the murder phenomenon — or ‘femicide’ — shows no sign of abating. On the contrary, chillingly, it seems to be spreading to other northern Mexican towns with similar socio-economic conditions.”
Daoud Sarhandi is a co-author of Evil Doesn’t Live Here: Posters of the Bosian War.
Ricardo Levins Morales, from an abstract of Art, Organizing, and Memory:
“The telling of history is more than an exercise in documentation. It has always been an important element in shaping history. Historical narrative provides important information about both specific tactics and strategies and broader possibilities for action. Consequently, the struggle to control the memory of events is an important element of social conflict.
The Northland Poster Collective participates in this aspect of social (particularly workplace) struggles on three levels. Working with organizers and rank and filers we help them to identify and redefine the workplace narrative. To effectively organize, it makes a difference whether workers see themselves as part of a big, happy family; as engaged in a David vs. Goliath struggle; as rugged individuals who must each make their own way; as a community of interest in an exploitative environment, etc. Art, humor, and creative tactics can create a receptive atmosphere organizing and leadership development.
Telling untold (or miss-told) stories that can suggest avenues for action. Even when figures or events from social struggles are integrated into mainstream teaching they are presented in ways that emphasize individual heroics and chance. Our classroom posters focus on the collective action, planning, and community connection that offer a more reliable roadmap for creating change. By our choices of what stories to depict we help to challenge widely held notions about who is an actor in history.
Posterfolio sets help to bring more depth of knowledge (and curiosity) about events that people may know of only superficially. Posters that challenge deeply held assumptions. Less immediate in their impact, these may illustrate word definitions or the histories of everyday items, foods, etc. Seemingly innocuous, these posters contain layers of social history and suggest connections to other peoples that are absent from mainstream and commercial culture.
Making use of history as a lever for real change requires strategies for its dissemination. Our approach has been to use our relationships with schoolteachers, unions, and community organizations to distribute the work that we produce. These networks are also the source for information on the needs of the people at the front. Organizing seeds have a hard time growing in hostile soil. Tending to the cultural soil of the workplace, community, and broader society is a long-term and essential element in any strategy for change.”
Let’s say the president of your country is corrupt. Let’s just say.
The legislature is corrupt. The court system, police, and military are all corrupt. The city officials? The big businesses? They’re corrupt, too.
They misuse their power. They thrive on favoritism and get rich on kickbacks while the rest the country slowly starves. What do you do?
Replacing one individual with another doesn’t change the broader system or take away any of the incentives for corruption.
So how do you reduce corruption throughout a given system?
Some of the strategies they use are described in their annual Corruption Fighters’ Tool Kit. The manual is just one of the ways the TI chapters share ideas with each other and offer their experience to the world at large. In addition to the hard work of organizing and building coalitions, many of the corruption-reducing strategies incorporate graphic and interactive design. Some of them include:
Since 1991, Ras l’front (“Fed up with the Front”) has campaigned against Jean-Marie Le Pen and his extreme right-wing party, the National Front. Ras l’Front collectives are active in cities throughout France.
See this collection of their posters on racism, fascism, sexism, immigrant rights, and other issues.
From the Committee to Help Unsell the War, 1971.
Download the image above as a 782 x 1024 pixel TIFF (2.3 Mb) from the Library of Congress.
“A strong plurality of visual typographic styles and rhetorical strategies emerged after the war in Beirut. Lebanese are so sensitive now about the ethnic hatred which sparked off the war that they have been reluctant to speak up about it, yet they are tagging the streets of the city with slogans as a means of expression.
In this presentation Yasmine Taan analyses how ‘untrained designers/typographers’ have chosen the appropriate ‘typefaces’ whose diverse styles powerfully reflect the context of their messages, giving voice to the political aspirations of the inhabitants.”
A preface to this can be seen in the images of political posters in the American University of Beirut Jafet Library Poster Collection.
The posters were collected from the 1960s through the 1980s, before and during the war, from their original sources and from the American University of Beirut campus where they were posted. The collection covers two main topics: the Palestinian Question, and Lebanon and the Lebanese Civil War.
A few images are online, organized as follows:
“For 20 years, Rini Templeton made drawings of activists in the United States, Mexico and Central America while she joined them in their meetings, demonstrations, picket lines and other actions for social justice. She called her bold black-and-white images ‘xerox art’ because activists and organizers could copy them easily for use in their banners, signs, leaflets, newsletters, even T-shirts, whenever needed.
Her drawings also included workers, women and children, celebrations, scenes of town and country, many images from daily life. In all her work you can feel a unity with grassroots people across national and racial lines. She almost never signed a drawing, out of typical modesty. As a result, her style is widely recognized but her name is not.
Two years after she died in Mexico in 1986, Rini’s work was published in a bilingual book in the U.S. (Real Comet Press, Seattle) and Mexico (Centro de Documentación Gráfica Rini Templeton). Entitled The Art of Rini Templeton: Where There is Life and Struggle/El Arte de Rini Templeton: Donde hay vida y lucha, the U.S. editorial coordinator was Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez. The Mexican team included 5 editors from the Punto Crítico magazine collective together with a production coordinator. All had worked with Rini extensively.
With the book out of print, it was decided to continue making her work available through this web-site. Rini’s sister, Lynne Brickley, made that possible with generous support.
You will find 600 drawings here, organized by theme, with brief texts in English explaining the story behind each set of drawings. There is also a short biography about Rini. Photos of her sculptures, done before she switched to graphic work, are not included here nor are the many reminiscences of Rini written by friends and co-workers for the book.
In the spirit of Rini Templeton’s life and work, activists serving causes that Rini would have supported are invited to use drawings freely in their leaflets, newsletters, banners and picket signs or for similar non-commercial purposes. Those wishing to use drawings in the production of an item for sale, such as a book, should write to the Rini Templeton Memorial Fund, c/o Elizabeth Martinez, 3545 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. A reasonable fee will be asked, to help maintain this web-site.”
Yuri Matrosovich has a collection of 34 anti-alcohol posters from Russia on his Web site. The posters date from the early 1980’s, mostly from a ‘propaganda pack’ one could get when one joined a special anti-alcohol society. In those years, he writes, one was pushed to be a member.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev launched a massive anti-alcohol campaign in the Soviet Union. The goal was not just to reduce alcohol consumption by the population, but to sharply decrease state production and sale of alcoholic beverages, to suppress the production of illicit alcohol, and ultimately, to raise worker productivity and buttress the economy.
Though the campaign fizzled out by 1988 and is generally derided today, this study charts the impact on both alcohol consumption and overall mortality in the Soviet Union.
Annual per capita alcohol consumption dropped from 14.2 liters in 1984 to 10.5 liters in 1986. Overall mortality declined from 1161.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 1984 to 1054.0 in 1986.
This was also during the social upheaval brought on by Gorbachev’s reforms, aka perestroika. Following this, in the period of the “market reforms” both alcohol consumption and overall mortality increased sharply. By 1997, per capita consumption had returned to the initial level of the early 1980’s.
The authors of the study estimate that 1.22 million people were spared between 1986 and 1991, 11.4% of the number of deaths expected without the anti-alcohol campaign.
Two more of my favorites:
“The Reason — Drunkenness!”
“Alcohol — Enemy of Production”
Apologies for the lack of updates lately. I’m just back in town from travels and have a whole stack of notes to write up.
In the meantime, I’m very happy to announce that New York City has started recycling again. Plastic recycling resumed on July 1. Glass recycling will resume in April 2004. Here’s the Department of Sanitation press release and poster.
Recycling was suspended last year as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to cut costs and fend off a projected $5 billion deficit. A year later, at a recent City Council budget hearing, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty conceded that the projected savings from cuts to recycling never actually appeared. [source]
The City Council worked out the deal with the Mayor to resume recycling in a recent budget agreement.
The city will pay Hugo Neu Schnitzer East $51 per ton to handle the material, making the cost of processing the city’s recycling less expensive than processing its trash. According to HNSE, the city currently pays an estimated $105 per ton for the transportation and disposal of plastic and glass in the solid waste stream.
“[With the acceptance of the bid,] HNSE will build a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art recycling facility in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx that will bring more than 40 high-paying, unionized jobs and numerous economic benefits to an impoverished area of New York City. Moreover, since HNSE operates one of the metropolitan area’s largest barge fleets, the development of the new recycling facility would create little additional truck traffic—indeed, the new facility would actually remove truck traffic from city roads and highways.” [source]
Building an recycling infrastructure in NYC is a wonderful thing, but I wonder about the environmental impact of the recycling plant itself. Residents of the South Bronx already endure much of the City’s waste transfer and incineration. Children living in East Harlem are three times more likely to have asthma than children living on the Upper West Side, and 25% of children from the South Bronx have asthma. As plans for the new recycling facility was just announced, the South Bronx Clean Air Coalition is seeking further information in order to evaluate the impact on health and traffic in the area.
In 1962, Cesar Chávez and his cousin Manuel conceived of the U.F.W. logo as a way to ‘get some color into the movement, to give people something they could identify with.’ they chose the Aztec eagle on the Mexican flag as the logo’s main symbol and created a stylized version of it that was easy to reproduce. The U.F.W. logo became a highly recognizable icon in the union’s boycott efforts, legislative, proposition campaigns, and a victorious symbol of its successful contract negotiations.
The symbol and flag were unveiled at the first mass meeting of the newly formed union.
The evolution of Chicano poster art began in 1965 with the production of graphic images to support the organizing and boycotting efforts of the United Farm Workers. The U.F.W. logo — a black stylized eagle with wings shaped like an inverted Aztec pyramid — became a key symbol of the Chicano movement. It appeared prominently on all official U.F.W. graphics, and its inclusion on unrelated posters made by Chicano artists signaled support for the union. Posters also were utilized to promote other Chicano political causes, such as the 1968 Coors beer boycott in protest of the company’s discriminatory hiring practices.