Open Hands for the Holidays

community foundations handsThis blog will post between the Winter Solstice and the end of the calendar year, a time in which many cultures have a celebration.   I wish you a very Happy whichever Holidays you celebrate and best wishes for the new year.

To honor the season, my continuing consideration of power fists and related symbols will take a philanthropy break and focus on graphics and logos with open hands.   In the US, the end of the calendar year also ends the tax year for individuals.  So, this fortnight is also a time in which organizations request donations. The “Giving Tuesdays” of October and November give way to beg letter month and many of these fundraising campaigns use hands in their continuing or year-end logos.  

The one that we see all over New York was created for City Harvest, the hunger-fighting organization that links retail food services with distributing organizations such as food pantries and soup kitchen.  All of the supermarket chains, healthy fast food places, farmers markets, and hotels, as well as occasional events like the Chocolate Expo, donate their un-used goods. The graphic is seen everywhere because the graphic is not only on the beg letters and web sites, but on the white trucks that do the pick-ups and deliveries. Since City Harvest also promotes healthy eating programs, the graphic shows a line of brightly colored hands holding fresh vegetables and fruit.

Hands are also showing up on graphics urging individual service and social justice. I have also seen similar collages of different sized, brightly colored open hands on a variety of Jewish volunteer service organizations, such as the Areyvut “A Kindness a Day” calendar.  

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America has a logo of blue lines that can be seen as abstract or as the fingers of two hands linking.   It symbolizes connections and interdependence. It reminds me, however, that the same shape can be made with an individual’s hands, one facing up, one facing down.  A similar hand position can be found on a small, ancient Neo-Sumerian statue of Gudea at the Metropolitan Museum. The diorite figure is seated, wearing a one-should drape with large areas of text rising from its hem.   The statue can be seen (and the text translation read) on the Met’s wonderful on-line illustrated chronology of art. When this statue shows up in art history, it is unusually used to demonstrate realistic musculature outside Greece, since the figure has noticeable shoulders and biceps.   But I remember its hands, which are folded over each other in a position that MMA’s caption depicts as pious reserve and serenity.  You can also interpret them as promising “I come in peace,” since the hands would have to break the link to reach for a weapon.

The cover of my high school alumnae magazine’s Fall 2018 issue, “The Giving Issue,” shows a variety of hands in a diversity of skin tones.  Some are linked, forming a heart shape, while others hold hearts of various sizes (one on a cell phone).  They cup gifts, a red ribbon, a globe, and a soup bowl.   Four hands grip each others wrists, forming a square symbolizing shared responsibility.  The cover is the only example this week for which I could find an artist credit; the excellent graphic design is credited to Andrea Pemberton.

The graphic which begins the blog comes from The Philanthropy News Digest, an e-newsletter produced by the Foundation Center.  It includes a Community Foundations Update in each issue to announce funding initiatives and grants specific to localities (states, cities, etc.).  Its graphic shows a 6 open hands facing into each other, with fingers overlapping. The skin tones and colored hands form a circle or star, and like all of the graphics in this blog, it symbolize both generosity and mutual support .

If you enjoy my political graphic obsessions, I recommend that you look at the Turbulent London blog, also on WordPress.  The author, cultural geographer Hannah Awcock, often writes about political decals, bumper stickers, and posters that she finds around England.  

Power and the Pink Triangle: more iconography for Day Without Art

Last month, this blog series on protest iconography focused on a new banner designed by Nelson Santos that combines the Day Without Art crossed square with power fists.  Today’s blog examines protest iconography using the other graphics associated with AIDS and the campaigns to end AIDS — pink triangles and Keith Haring outline figures. Some of the greatest graphic designs of recent decades and they were inspired directly by a dreadful disease and indirectly by Nazi hatred.

The down-pointing pink triangle is a prime example of a symbol of evil intent that was appropriated by the LGBTQ activist community.  Most cultural appropriation is, at the very least, compromised, but this one symbolizes a victory.  The pink triangle was one of the identification symbols used by Nazi Germany to categorize its victims — the yellow Mogen David is another. They were worn for identification on the left side of a shirt or coat — where one put name tags, if one merited an individual name.  

The pink triangle was claimed by ACT-UP, the most activist of the groups that emerged within the LGBTQ community to fight both the disease and its stigma imposed on the community.  On ACT-UP posters and its black t-shirt, it floats over the slogan Silence = Death.  I associate it with a grey-tone version, more like the lingerie color “dusty rose,” but it ranges from a red to a Day-Glo pink. Appropriately, the black ACT-UP t-shirt is included in the excellent exhibition, Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color, at The Museum at FIT (through January 5, 2019).

The pink triangle was also appropriated by Housing Works, another of the veteran projects to fight AIDS and its stigma, in this case on housing.  Although New Yorkers know and love Housing Works for its fabulous thrift shops and collaborations with the fashion industry, its primary purpose is to facilitate housing for men and women impacted by AIDS. Appropriately, its appropriation on the triangle uses an upward-pointing one over parallel lines  — it becomes a house with a roof. 

The artist Keith Haring became famous for his linear “street-style” graphics, designed for walls and subways stations.  His outlined figures appeared everywhere — what we would now call “going viral.” You can see them on t-shirt, socks, posters, gifs, etc., still or animated.  If you are young,  you may think of them as familiar seeming graphic language. If you are old enough to remember AIDS as a nightmare, you see Haring designs and are reminded to regret his loss and the loss of so many figures from visual and performing arts, among so many others.

He created graphics specifically for campaigns against AIDS and for LGBT rights.  Visual AIDS, an activist archive of art by visual artists impacted by the disease, uses one specific Haring design, dancing white outline figures on a black square.  An upward-pointing reddish-pink triangle fills more than half the square, so you see many of the dancing figures on the bright ground.

Here are links to press releases for Worlds AIDS Day events at the NYC AIDS Memorial and Christopher Street and for Day without Art screenings and events around the country.

Power Fists on Campaign Buttons

I began the Outsidethemuseumblog series 2 years ago, after having contributed on the New York Public Library staff blog for almost 13 years.  I had expected to stay outside museums for my blog topics, but I found just as many topics to cover as a museum visitor as I had as a museum staff member.  

Last week’s election was challenging and only some of the results were positive, but the incoming US House of Representatives and NYS legislatures look promising.  I had planned to write this mid-November blog about all of the creative uses of power fists in contemporary campaigns, but the t-shirts and buttons were not as inspiring as the very real campaign issues.  Even the “Resist Trump” button (white fist with gold letters on a bric red background), now living on my coat.  While purchased from my local Democratic club while canvassing at a street fair, may not have been designed for this campaign. It is universal, or at least good for the next 2 years, minus 2 weeks.  The only other button that I have seen recently that was aimed at a current political issue was a NYC classic spotted on the subway, proclaiming “Tenants in Tenant Associations for Tenants’ Rights.” 

This blog series began close to home, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and its exhibition on Black Power.  After over a year in the gallery, it is currently de-installing.  But, check out the resource guide which is still available on the NYPL website (  

The National Museum of African American History & Culture on the National Mall has power fist logos in the selection of its vast historical campaign buttons collection.  Some are currently on display and featured in its popular Souvenir Book (pages 38-39). The 1960s (but still frustratingly up-to-date) campaigns to guarantee voting rights is represented by a “Vote Power” button from Freedom, Inc. Two power fists are shackled together, but pulling apart.  The visual references are to slavery and/or imprisonment.  I hope that the campaigns to enfranchise voters and, particularly, to re-enfranchise the formerly convicted can create a related logo with broken chains.  The other power fist button featured in the book is from the 1970s, as can be seen in the slogan “Right-On” and “Unity.” The black fist emerges from a white-on-red CND peace sign.  Only the phrase “right-on” is dated.  I spied a similar image on a new-looking t-shirt worn by a man working out at the gym — black on white without slogans — so that combination of images must still be pertinent. 

Next week’s blog will return to long-surviving LGBTQ logos in honor of Day Without Art, but expect one on feminist power fists in December, as soon as I can verify the credit for a clever book cover’s design.

Day With(out) Art with Power Fists


It may have been the anniversary of the Mexico City Olympics power fist salute, the Schomburg Center’s exhibition on the Black Power movement or a general sense of rage, but variations on the Black power fist remain the icon of our times.  For 2018, I noticed that the current designer, Nelson Santos, had added red raised power fists to Day With(out) Art’s traditional logo, a crossed-out square in what looks like slashing white paint on a black banner.  Santos has made a strong icon even stronger, even angrier, even more urgent.

Day Without Art, or Day With(out) Art, was developed by Visual AIDS as a way to recognize the impact of HIV+/AIDS on the arts communities. It is commemorated on World AIDS Day, December 1st, so called for the international medical and socio-economic conferences held then.  This is the 29th year. 

When it began, museums, theaters, galleries, and public spaces hung black banners showing the original logo, distributed on newsprint or large posters.  Music, theater,  dance, and art institutions found ways to recognize the impact of AIDS in programming.  Some institutions closed for the day; others opened without charge. 29 years ago, HIV+/AIDS was still not often named as a cause of death, so listing names became a protest in itself. Many institutions developed special exhibitions, events or installations that made identification visible to all visitors. Over the years, my colleagues at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which had already lost staff members, found ways to recognize the community by, over the years, covering names on a corridor display of Broadway posters and window cards, draping photographs of post-modern dancers (a particularly hard-hit community), screening memorial videos, and making red-ribbon bound booklets for visitors to sign. Our staff and volunteers wore and distributed red ribbon pins.  Our visitors participated — as recently as December 1, 2015, I found flowers and red ribbons below frames of deceased performers in an exhibition on Head Shots.

Last year, spaces around the country hosted Day With(out) Art screenings, collectively titled Alternative Endings, Radical Beginnings.  This year’s Day With(out) Art, lasting 2 weeks, will feature Alternate Endings, Activist Risings, screenings of video programs with links to local activities.  They will be shown in theaters, galleries and public spaces around the world.  For more information on your local activities, go to:

The crossed-out square maintains its powerful message. It looks like street art, since even in the decades since spray paint graffiti took over as the common concept of tagging, slashes of paint remain associated with angry public messages. But in this year’s logo,  Visual AIDS, ACT-UP, SERO Project, and the many local service organizations, needed to represent activism, organized and personal. So it turned to the universally recognized symbol of anger becoming action — the power fist.

Power Fists at the Met

More power fists — this time at art museums.

This administration deserved all of the protests that it receives.  My personal response is to vote, march and volunteer. My art historian/performance studies response is finding and reporting raised fists and open hands everywhere I look.

This month, I found them in the wonderful exhibition currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not where I expected to find them, in African American Portraits: Photographs from the 1940s and 1950s, although I also recommend that exhibit.  You have 3 weeks to see History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift, on view through September 23rd. The exhibition comprises 30 mid-late 20th century works — sculpture, paintings and quilts — from the large collection that was donated to MMA in 2014. Its connective theme could be chronology or that all of the artists are African Americans from the South  The Met’s texts describe the artists as self-taught.  I actually disagree that the Gee’s Bend quilters should be described as self-taught, since quilting is community-transmitted through example, demonstration and oral tradition.  But, to step back from my digression, for me, the clearest curatorial linkage among the works is the artists’ use of found objects — inherent in quilting, but less common in works generally considered “art.”

Young sculpture MMA IA-2014_548_11The Black power fists motif pervades the exhibition, but are clearest in the featured sculpture by Joe Minter, 400 Years of Free Labor, made in 1995.  The title protests the free labor of enslavement, sharecropping and prison gangs.  It is a construction of 5 upraised shovels, lifted like raised fists, with rakes and heavy chains.  The humans are implied through the shovels and framework. They are frontal and in your face, like a small, angry gang.   The image is from the Museum’s website and provided, with my thanks,  as a reference point. Metropolitan Museum of Art Accession Number:2014.548.11

I saw a larger, angrier mob is in Purvis Young’s 1972 Locked Up Their Minds.  It is a painting — commercial paint on found plywood sheets.  It is mural art, although it was not made as part of a street display in Young’s Overtown, Miami, neighborhood. It also reminds me of Orthodox displays, with its mob massed along the lower edge. They look like Orthodox icons, thanks to the metallic halos/hats.  Behind them (shown as above in Young’s forced perspective) are additional bodies, as if a protest march was separated by light curved area that could be roads or could be arms. The figures at the top are raising hands, clutching padlocks.

You may find hands and fists in other works in the exhibit — try to see it.  It is in the Special Exhibition galleries, since it is Special. But that also puts the quilts and the paintings by Ronald Lockett and Thornton Dial next to the gallery of abstract expressionist paintings, which are linked to them by scale and color intensity.  
The Black Power exhibition is still on view at the Schomburg Center.  The Whitney’s Incomplete History of Protest just came down, but its excellent digital version is still on the website.   The Whitney’s David Wojnarowicz exhibition, History Keeps Me Awake at Night, is up through September 30th. The retrospective shows that his art concerned HIV+/AIDS but his importance should not be defined by it.  He had other ways to show anger; his arms are held tightly, restrained, revealing anger but protesting without raised fists.

Power Fists and Open Hands: logos for immigrant rights

In honor of Bastille Day, it is time for another blog about the iconography of protest.  Last winter, I wrote blogs about Black power fists in political posters, then on display in exhibitions at the Schomburg Center and the Whitney Museum.  In the Schomburg exhibit, I was especially interested in finding a fist holding a ballpoint pen on a poster from the NY Coalition for a Black Count, reminding Black families to participate in the 1970 census.  An accurate count meant more political power. It still does, so fight to exclude the question about citizenship which may keep residents from participating in the 2020 Census. Graphic designers, you have 18 months to envision a power fist variation for a census which people will fill in on line.

I saw two similar images recently promoting immigrant and refugee rights.  The San Francisco Public Library hosted “A Bunch of Bad Hombre: [an evening of] immigrant writers respond to Trump”  in 2017. In the Litquake poster, the fist is holding a sharpened pencil, ready to write a polemic or sign a petition. The Migrant Watch Hotline website hosts a variety of projects, each with its own strong graphic.  The power fist appears in the Renew My DACA campaign logo, a hand clenched around an ID card. 

Although the fist is America’s best-known symbol of power, more immigrant rights graphics are featuring open hands, symbolizing generosity, welcoming and trust.  They can be found on t-shirts and political buttons, as well as e-newsletters and social media. Social Justice Collaborative alludes to a yin/yang balance in it logo, with abstracted hands cupping around each other.   If the designer is my age, it also alludes to the anti-war doves in the DuBose Club and other 60s anti-war logos.  Access, an Australian Migration and Refugee Women’s Health partnership, has abstracted open hands around the A in its name. 

Outstretched arms also appear in American immigrant rights and welfare logos. One of the oldest organizations is HIAS, originally Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, but now supporting all refugee groups and a primary foe of the Trump immigration policies.  In the current iteration of the logo, the cross bar in the capital A is formed by outstretched, welcoming arms. United We Dream, another campaign linked to the Migra Watch Hotline, features outstretched arms in both versions of its logo — a half-circle window at the top edge of the webpage and in the 10th anniversary graphic, based on the number 10. Inside, but pushing through the 0,  are three young people of color.  The young man on the left shouts through a raised bullhorn while the hijab-wearing women on the right raises her powerful arm so her fist breaks through the frame. Additional abstracted outstretched arms can be found in graphic symbols for Women for Women International, Save the Children, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Hands and fists could also be found in the Spanish and English language logos for the recent protest march against Trump’s new immigration policies, especially referencing the forced separation of parents and children with large and tiny hands.  Like the Women’s March Alliance’s earlier protests, the graphic designs featured simplified silhouettes in contrasting solid colors on a black background. Appropriately for its immigrant theme, the official posters, buttons and t-shirts were available in bi-lingual versions.  The English-language graphic combined “Families Belong Togther” with a circle around an open hand, with a smaller child’s fist holding a finger, the way that a baby or young child does grab at the smallest, closest part of a parent’s hand. The Spanish-language slogan is “Familias unidas no divididas,” linking the English slogan with the angrier, traditional chant, “a people united will never be defeated.”  The graphic shows two raised arms blue and yellow, with open hands. Crossing them at their wrists are small open child’s hands in black silhouette. Desperation and anger, rather than familial sweetness. But both logos spoke to the marchers and viewers.

Why are we thinking about slave auctions? Seeking another teachable moment

In May, 2017, the American Alliance of Museums met in St. Louis.  AAM’s theme that year was “Gateways to Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion in Museums,” and the program featured a larger than usual selection of sessions and roundtables about social justice.  As a steering committee member for professional networks on diversity, accessibility and LGBTQ issues, I participated or attended many of them. Space in the Museum Expo was also given to organizations concerned with museums and social justice, even those outside the AAM structure, to provide opportunities to extend informal conversations.     Unfortunately, one of the vendors, a molded model maker, brought examples of its product that seemed totally at odds with the theme. Life Formations had provided the figures for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and brought the figures from there of a white man with his upraised arm holding a cane or cudgel. He faced the figure of an enslaved African American man, straining to free his shackeled arms. Attendees, browsing the Expo were shocked and outraged.

I recommend that you read Dina A. Bailey’s blog on the History@Work page of the National Council for Public History website, August 24, 2017. She called it a teachable moment.  Her cogent analysis provides a good description of the response by AAM and the attendees there and on Twitter as #aam2017slaveauction. Read it at

The discussions continued in an EdComversation online webinar, “Reflections on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion at 2017 AAM Annual Meeting,” in July, 2017.  The AAM professional development event was planned in collaboration with the AAM Education Committee (EdCom), Diversity Committee (DivCom), and Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation (CARE), Professional Networks of the American Alliance of Museums (; and with #MuseumEdChat on Twitter.

In my many years of DEAI work, I have learned the importance of not interrupting a discussion. There are points of information that could be raised, but would stop or divert a discussion, when it is more important to further the conversation.  Bringing those figures in that arrangement to the Expo was wrong, since the grouping was seen as insulting both in the past and present tense. It was wrong in the sense that it angered the attendees and eliminated any enthusiasm for Life Formation’s 3-D fabrication services.

But, it is over a year after the AAM, and Trump’s wrong-headed immigration policies have brought the national conversation back to slave auctions.  So, this is my delayed comment on why bringing those figures in that arrangement was also wrong, in the sense of misrepresenting the Lincoln Library and Museum’s display. No-one in that teachable moment needed to think about whether the Expo display differed from the museum’s.  I knew because I had asked the saleman why those figures were selected for display and he showed me the photograph of the display, which is part of Journey I: The Pre-Presidential Years: “The horror of slavery is captured in The Slave Auction.”

It is supposed to represent a slave auction that Lincoln may have attended and is a much more complex display. The slave trader is not facing and threatening the enshackled man, struggling is to avoid a beating. The white man warns him off while pulling at a crying child, who is grabbing at his mother’s skirt as she is dragged away by a second slaver.  

I have not been able to locate a contemporary image on which the display was based, either in the extant Anti-Slavery/Abolitionist iconography or as an illustration for a published slave narrative.  It reminded me of the movement-filled lithographic posters for mid-19th century theatricalizations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but does not fit the novel’s narrative, since George and Eliza’s child is a baby when she escapes. The lack of an iconographic model still bothers me. Followers of this blog know that I care about iconography.  But, this time, it is not my main concern.  The slave traders separating the child from his mother is, unfortunately and obviously, why I thought about these figures again.

We are in need a new teachable moment, one that will explain to the powers-that-be why separating families is reminding so many of evil moments in history: concentration camps, “Indian schools,” and slave auctions.