Black Power!, the exhibition at the Schomburg Center, has been extended. Both it, and the poster exhibition Power in Print, will now be available to view until March. Make sure that you see them. The extension gives me the opportunity and impetus to dedicate another blog to the fist as an icon of protest and power.
Power in Print includes a poster for the (NY) Coalition for a Black Count, exhorting viewers to make sure that they were represented in the 1970 census. The power fist holds a ball point pen, cocked and ready to make sure that “Every Black included in the ‘70 Census means more Black jobs, housing, schools, hospitals. More Black congressmen, judges, legislators. More Black pride. More Black strength.” I had not planned to highlight this poster since its text required contextualization. But the current administration is manipulating the categories included in the 2020 census planning (eliminating LGBT and imposing immigration status), so it has become timely again.
There is a good selection of fists in the Whitney Museums’ current exhibition, An Incomplete History of Protest. Most of the exhibit is very specific, providing background, protest, and response for a selection of causes — civil rights, voting rights, anti-war movements, etc. But, the central gallery has two large walls of posters and flyers, framed and hung in a mosaic of rectangles. The idea was, I think, to elicit memories of random walls, covered with posters announcing marches, protests and boycotts. Three large pick-up captions identify designers, if known, or sponsors of the event/cause for the walls. This style of display highlights graphics over the organizational history presented elsewhere, as in the gallery on the Guerrilla Girls. The walls include serigraphs of various kinds and could be used to document the rise of offset printing, but I was looking for fists.
And I found:
a classic red ink fist, credited to designer Harvey Hacker, 1960
a Unite! Fist, ca.1966, grabbing the ring of a CND (Committee for Nuclear Disarmament) peace sign
A fist growing out of a Woman symbol (elsewhere credited to the London See Red Women’s Workshop)
A purple fists holding a green peace branch promoting the Students Mobilization and strike, which strove for almost a decade to end the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
I saw a wonderful new fist graphic on Facebook this week. It disappeared, as things do on Facebook, but returned, so here is the corrected description: the red and white stripes form the background, the hand is covered with white stars on blue, and the single fingernail is red. I hope to find it on one of the Women’s March sites or on a poster, button or t-shirt at the NYC March.
Museums and archival centers have a responsibility to protect as well as collect and interpret artifacts. All of these posters were made to grab attention on a wall or handed out on the street. Seeing them lined up in decorous frames is incongruous. But, they were made, expecting to have brief lifespans. Now, 50 years later, we can appreciate their graphic and political power and be grateful that they were saved for the current audience.