Explore queer design history through Days of Rage, a new online exhibition documenting LGBTQIA+ activist posters

We speak to the One Archives Foundation and Studio Lutalica about the intentions behind the online exhibition, and its clean and minimalist web design approach.

Date
15 June 2022

Days of Rage is a pertinent and expertly crafted online exhibition, born out of a conversation between Umi Hsu, director of content strategy of One Archives Foundation, and curator Andy Campbell. Umi approached Andy, the author of Queer x Design, wanting to create a project “about queer design that exemplifies the spirit of queer design”. And, importantly, after a number of conversations, the pair also decided that they wanted queer design to “not only be the subject matter”, but “also be embodied in the design of the project”.

With the onset of covid-19, Umi and Andy had to revisit the project, instead exploring ways of translating it online. Platforming posters curated and recently digitised by One National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries, Umi explains: “We wanted to lean into the flexible ways in which visual content can be displayed, contextualised with didactic text, and paired with storytelling video content.” So, they imagined the website as a “hub” where primary material can be “experienced, felt and enriched by secondary source interpretive content”. This secondary source interpretation was masterminded by Andy, who came up with the idea of filming overhead the hands of community activists and designers while storytelling. “This interface between the self and the objects held in archives serves as an interpretive force in transmitting knowledge,” Umi explains, “thereby queering the mode in which graphic design is displayed, which is so often wall-bound.”

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Red Hot and Steven Miesel: Safe Sex is Hot Sex (Copyright © Red Hot and Steven Miesel, 1991)

To realise such an innovative and ambitious project, some pretty impressive and considered website design was going to be necessary, and One Archives Foundation enlisted Studio Lutalica, the Edinburgh-based design agency centred around queer and feminist design. Approaching the project, creative director Cecilia Righini explains that the overarching concept would be “clean and minimal” so as to ensure focus on the posters. Leading with a “simple but striking colour palette”, Cecilia explains that the studio landed on a limited contrast of two colours. But, “crucially,” they expand, “these are not actually white on black, because the combination is actually hard to engage with for some users with accessibility needs. Instead we used an off-white / soft beige to make the experience more comfortable.” Moreover, the studio stuck to three web templates throughout the site. A conscious decision, Cecilia observes it to be one of the ways in which the website echoes the experience of visiting a physical gallery. “I wanted people to feel like they could walk around a defined space,” they say, “but new elements would jump out, like your eyes travelling around an exhibition space as you focus on elements, descriptions and pieces.”

The aforementioned secondary material consists of various LGBTQIA+ activists and graphic designers – such as Alan Bell, Daniel Hyo Kim, Changi Moore, Silas Munro, Judy Ornelas Sisneros and Jordan Peimer – offering stories and lived experiences related to the subject matter of selected posters. To best present this side of the content, the studio added an “Activist Mode” button, which could be turned on and off. Turned off, visitors can see the full exhibition un-curated. Turned on, the viewers are offered the experience of an expert taking you on an exclusive tour, filtered and framed by which posters the activists chose. This focus on activism extends to the typography used. The studio applied three disparate clashing fonts, one being Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a bold, impactfully DIY font, taken from Gender Fail, an organisation creating fonts since 2018 directly inspired by queer and trans posters.

The posters featured in the exhibition vary immensely in their use of imagery, type and colour, but all are so impressive in their lasting power and resonance. Concluding our chat, Cecilia identifies a few that particularly stand out for the studio. Gay is Angry Cecilia identifies for the “ironic juxtaposition between the childlike rainbow colour palette and illustration style versus the violent text and imagery”. This approach, Cecilia continues, was adopted by the studio when designing the site – “it doesn’t immediately scream ‘angry gay,’ but dig down into the typography and spends some time exploring, and you’ll see that it is just as impassioned as the work it frames.”

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Juan Carlos Vidal and Néstor Latrónico: Gay is Angry: Gay Revolution Networker (Copyright © Juan Carlos Vidal and Néstor Latrónico, 1971)

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Critical Mass Committee of ACT UP/ LA [Ellen Yellowbird, Josh Wells, Jordan Peimer, and Michael Fuller]: Women are Dying For AIDS Treatment (Copyright © Critical Mass Committee of ACT UP, 1990)

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Red Hot and Steven Miesel: Safe Sex is Hot Sex (Copyright © Red Hot and Steven Miesel, 1992)

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Valerie Papaya Mann and Earnest Hite, AIDS Project of the East Bay: Use a Latex Condom Every Time (Copyright © Valerie Papaya Mann and Earnest Hite, AIDS Project of the East Bay, c. 1990)

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Valerie Papaya Mann and Earnest Hite, AIDS Project of the East Bay: Use a Latex Condom Every Time (Copyright © Valerie Papaya Mann and Earnest Hite, AIDS Project of the East Bay, c. 1990)

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National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Stop Anti-Gay and Lesbian Violence (Copyright © National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, c. 1982)

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Robert Birch: It Can’t Happen to Me, Not! (Copyright © Robert Birch, 1992)

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Studio Lutalica: Days of Rage (Copyright © Studio Lutalica, 2022)

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Studio Lutalica: Days of Rage (Copyright © Studio Lutalica, 2022)

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Studio Lutalica: Days of Rage (Copyright © Studio Lutalica, 2022)

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Creator unknown: Stonewall (1976)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.

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