Graphic design has the power to sell, to persuade and to delight; and crucially, it has the power to bring about a revolution. That’s what these posters hoped to do at least, when they were created by students and activists in the early 1970s in the US.
The Berkeley demonstrations were sparked by the massacre of four unarmed protesters at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard in May 1970, as immortalised in Neil Young’s chilling lament Ohio. These posters were created almost immediately following this catalyst for action, when the Berkeley Political Poster Workshop quickly formed as students used a space in the faculty to screenprint their messages onto recycled paper and card.
While these demos are frequently tied in with discussions around music and counterculture, their associations with graphic design are less widely covered, and it’s wonderful to see the outsider art-esque poster designs that helped propel various causes.
More than 150 posters are soon to go on show at London’s Shaperon Gallery, brought together from the archive of late publisher Felix Dennis, and curated by writer and historian Barry Miles. “These posters were not designed as art, but for a specific political purpose, and yet they inevitably fit into the history of graphic art, borrowing heavily from the Atelier Populaire posters of the student uprising in Paris of May 1968 and the counter-cultural posters of the period,” says Barry. “They are a frozen snapshot of American graphic design at the end of the 60s, as well as a unique sociological record of a society in crisis.”
America in Revolt: The Art of Protest runs from 3 – 27 February at Shapero Modern
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