The Sixties Project Presents:
Decade of Protest
Political Posters from the United States, Cuba and Viet Nam
A virtual catalog of the exhibition held at Track 16 Gallery, January 19-March 9, 1996. Exhibition and catalogue organized with the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. This catalog is reproduced by permission of Susan Martin, who edited the Smart Art Press publication. We encourage you to purchase the hardcopy version of this catalogue, which contains many more illustrations and several essays on the exhibition.
Introduction: The Left Turn
By Susan Martin
Personally, I always held my flower in a clenched fist.
I wasn't the one who littered. Nor was it the dozen or so protohippies and ersatz Marxists, their bodies bent against the gale-force winds, marching in front of Kirkland Air Force Base on the occasion of the First International Days of Protest against the war in Viet Nam. The year was 1965, the place Albuquerque, New Mexico, and when the police arrested the entire demonstration--all fourteen of us--for littering and obscene literature, it changed my life forever.
At the time of my arrest, I was a sophomore at the University of New Mexico and a member of the W.E.B. DuBois Club. I was naive and idealistic and thought the club a nice, liberal antiwar group, not the "Communist front" the FBI had pegged it. The campus was ruled by shitkickers and greeks, and the state by the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, with bases strung like deadly pearls from White Sands Missile Range in the south to Los Alamos Nuclear Research in the north. Too young to have participated in the Civil Rights movement, like many of my generation I was nevertheless a beneficiary of its fervor and impetus to reexamine received ideas and to challenge the status quo. The sixties were not The Sixties, yet. Two hundred million Americans sandwiched between the two coasts were just awakening to long hair, the sexual revolution, the Mothers of Invention and the Doors, psychedelics, pot, and the other new cultural trappings liberally purveyed along the Sunset Strip, in Greenwich Village, and on college campuses throughout the country.
Like hundreds of thousands of my generation, the war in Viet Nam was a seminal event in our psychic and social development. The forces for change that came together to create the antiwar movement were part of a zeitgeist that brought down the carefully constructed myths of a powerful and duplicitous government, and also unleashed an unprecedented revolution in social mores and a tidal wave of cultural production. It was a time of good vibes and bad trips, SDS and STP, burning bras and draft cards, the enemy pigs and the Family Dog. The fabled "military-industrial complex" was real, the lie of beneficent American paternalism was stripped of its veneer to reveal imperialism, and the rhetoric of liberation and revolution rang in the air.
Decade of Protest: Political Posters from the United States, Viet Nam and Cuba 1965-1975 at Track 16 Gallery organized with the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, brings together two remarkable collections: Tom Patchett's breathtaking collection of original art for posters from North Viet Nam, and the Center's vast holdings in political graphics. The exhibition provides a window onto an age of conflicting ideologies and social upheavals on a grand scale, utilizing the power of visual imagery to concretely render one of the defining events of that era: the Viet Nam War. Even in the most desperate situations, people express themselves in creative languages that both reveal and surpass the meanings of the conflict (and consensus) they were devised to reflect. This decade of protest stimulated arts of an amazing variety and richness, and this exhibition makes patently clear that political posters--often considered the poor stepchildren of graphic arts because they sell unpopular ideas rather than a consumer product--must be viewed as potent graphic statements in their own right, not just because they are aesthetically engaging, but also because of what they are.
Throughout this catalogue, I have endeavored to balance the social, political, and aesthetic concerns of the diverse cultures in the exhibition. The distance between them is measured in more than miles, as can be seen in the range of essays [in the hardcopy catalog]. Each contributor has bridged the gulf of time and place to instill these poignant artifacts with contemporary meaning. The social commentary revealed through the graphics of each country is astutely brought to light in "Viet Nam," by Carol Wells, founder and executive director of Los Angeles' Center for the Study of Political Graphics, who, together with Antonette DeVito of Track 16 Gallery, curated the exhibition of more than 120 posters. Delineating the themes and contrasting the political realities as well as the graphics Wells' insights into the context and content of the posters bring into focus the issues of those turbulent times that paradoxically formed the backdrop for the posters' singular creativity.
Carlo McCormick, senior editor of the culture magazine Paper, turns his critical eye to the mediating effect of television and the deconstruction of tried and true American icons to examine the graphic urgency and polemical force of the antiwar movement in the U.S.. Contextualizing the posters, he investigates the medium's potential for provocation and its contributions to the sixties atmosphere of rebellion, liberation, and dissent. Examining the visual threads inherent in the posters' design, he traces their roots from the broadsheets that functioned as manifestos in the Protestant Reformation's fifteenth-century fight against the Catholic Church through the lampooning of nineteenth-century political cartoonists to the rampant appropriation of Pop art and beyond, to locate their significance in the postmodernist critique of culture.
Among the most profound revelations of Decade of Protest are the posters from North Viet Nam that have recently come to light with the normalization of relations. Nguyen Ngoc Dung, professor of art criticism at the School of Industrial Arts in Ha Noi since 1961, has taught at the very epicenter of revolutionary poster production. He offers surprising insights into the power of the posters to motivate and inspire the Vietnamese at a time of ferocious adversity. Given free reign to write about any aspect of the history, artistry or political content of the posters, he returns again and again to the posters' role as a rallying point for the passions ignited by the war, and he does not shy from describing them as propaganda in "Why Viet Nam Won the War."
Like the posters themselves, my journey backwards through the artifacts surrounding the war turned up astounding new insights and information. Poetry is ubiquitous in Vietnamese society and functions as a numinous refrain in the people's lives. In the trenches in the thick of war, Vietnamese soldiers wrote movingly of love, home, landscapes, and other poignant motifs. Recently collected in Poems from Captured Documents, the poems offer a tender interlude, an antidote to the terrifying realities of war.
At the time of the war, Cuba's successful revolution had fired the imagination of an entire generation. Posters of the revolutionary hero Ché Guevara graced the walls of college dormitories nationwide. David Kunzle, a professor of art history at UCLA and an expert on political graphics, points out in his essay "Cuba's Art of Solidarity" that the country's advances in literacy and other quality of life indicators presented an inspiring model to the rest of the world. If youth in America identified with Cuba's revolutionary struggle, the Cubans expressed overwhelming solidarity with the Vietnamese fight against the common enemy--U.S. imperialism--in hundreds of posters in every conceivable modernist style.
The Viet Nam War was a lighting rod for the social disaffection mirrored in the struggle of black Americans for equality and justice. In America, liberation and revolution became the watchwords of the decade, as resistance to the war made strange bedfellows of radical youth, hippies, musicians and artists, Labor, feminists, and politicos of every stripe--from the Black Panthers and the White Panthers to the Yippies and the Weatherman. The dismantling of cultural icons seen so clearly in the American posters was mirrored in the culture of rock and roll, fashion, and the street. "Freaks are revolutionaries and revolutionaries are freaks," declared Bernadine Dohrn in the 1970 Communiqué #1 from the Weatherman Underground. Contradictions reigned supreme: Viet Nam veterans flashed peace signs, and Marxist heroes like Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro were almost as popular as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, or the Stones.
Decade of Protest frames an age of idealism and rage, of energy and optimism, activism and dissent. The posters are living expressions of a period that forever changed the way America views itself and its institutions--and ultimately its role on the world's stage. Now, thirty years later, instead of radical chic we have the radical right. The image of the great socialist revolution is tarnished, and the Left is in disarray. But for many, the dream of social and political justice has not died. Forged in the crucible of liberating social action, my compatriots and I were a microcosm of the creative, personal transformations taking place all over the country. We sensed the possible and plunged right in. Long before we really understood "the personal is political," we belonged to a culture that innocently believed it could change the world. Some may argue that the demonstrations and songs and teach-ins and love-ins and riots and concerts and speeches and posters did not alter the course of American foreign policy. We know better.
Posters from the U.S.
Amerika is Devouring Its Children
1970; Jay Belloli (Berkeley, CA); silkscreen on paper; 21 11/16 x 14 15/16 inches
1974; Ernst Pignon Ernest
Bank of Amerika Isla Vista Branch
1970; Metamorphosis (Goleta, CA); offset; 22 7/8 x 34 1/4 inches
1969; Violet Ray; offset; 21 1/2 x 16 15/16 inches
Come to Detroit Nov. 3
1968; Students for a Democratic Society; silkscreen on paper; 17 x 22 inches
1967; Tomi Ungerer; offset; 26 3/4 x 20 7/8 inches
For All Time
ca. 1971; Specialty Imports, Inc. (Memphis); silkscreen on paper; 33 1/16 x 21 11/16 inches
Fuck the Draft
nd; Dirty Linen Corp. (New York); offset; 29 15/16 x 20 1/2 inches
ca. 1967; Screen Prints; silkscreen on paper; 40 x 26 inches
Help End Demonstrations
1968; (New York); offset; 22 1/16 x 15 3/4 inches
Higher Education Kent State U 1970
1970; Nikspix, Alchem, Inc. (Chicago); offset; 28 3/8 x 21 7/8 inches
[Hitler with Nixon Mask]
ca. 1970; Anonymous
I Want Out
1971; Committee to Help Unsell the War (New York); offset; 40 1/8 x 29 1/8 inches
It's the Real Thing
1970; (Berkeley, CA); silkscreen on paper; 14 9/16 x 11 1/16 inches
Liberate Our Minds By Any Means Necessary
Make Love Not War
My Lai We Lie They Die
ca. 1970; offset; 23 1/4 x 17 3/4 inches
nd; Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, photo by Danny Lyon
Q. And Babies? A. And Babies
1969-1970; Jon Hendricks, Irving Petlin, Frazier Dougherty, photo by Ron L. Haeberle; Art Workers Coalition; Offset; 24 13/16 x 38 inches
Resist! October 16
1967; Vietnam Day Committee; silkscreen on paper; 22 1/4 x 14 13/16 inches
1970; Emory Douglas (CA); Black Panther Newspaper; laser reproduction of offset; 13 3/8 x 18 1/2 inches
Until the Final Victory
Vietnam: An Eastern Theatre Production
1968; David Nordahl; © Gross National Products, 1986 (Wayzata, MN); offset; 28 1/2 x 22 5/8 inches
Viet Nam Aztlan
1973; Malaquias Montoya (Berkeley, CA); offset; 26 3/16 x 19 1/8 inches
We Celebrate Women's Struggles. We Celebrate People's Victories.
1975; Susan Shapiro (Inkworks Press)
We Remember Wounded Knee
1973; Mohawk Nation; woodcut by Bruce Carter
What if They Gave a War and Nobody Came....
1969; Beshi; Encore Art Prints; litho; 35 7/16 x 23 1/4 inches
Would You Burn A Child? If Necessary.
nd; offset; 21 1/4 x 8 11/16 inches
Would You Buy A Used War From This Man?
1969; Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (Washington, DC); offset; 22 x 16 7/8 inches
You Can't Jail the Revolution
1968; (Chicago); silkscreen on paper; 26 3/8 x 22 1/16 inches
Posters from Viet Nam
All Our Rivers Flow Into the Eastern Sea. The North and South United Under One Roof!
1975; Hoang Nguyen Doan; tempera on paper; 29 1/2 x 42 1/4 inches
B-52 Coffin Carrier
1972; Dac To; Pencil and tempera on paper; 31 x 21 1/2 inches
Bravo for Hanoi's Tremendous Victory When 23 B-52s Were Shot Down!
nd; pencil and tempera on paper; 29 3/4 x 42 3/4 inches
Build a Regular Modern Army to Protect the Socialist State
nd; Pham Lung
The Conscience of the People Supports Us
nd; Nguyen Hung; pencil and tempera on paper; 16 7/8 x 24 3/8 inches; collection of Don and Shelley Rubin, NY
Cooperation in Battle. Shoot Down Many Enemy Aircraft in Order to Launch the Offensive
1972; H. Hoan; silkscreen on paper; 17 x 24 1/2 inches
Do Not Let Them Escape
1972; Nguyen Hiep; pencil, tempera and stencil on paper; 24 1/2 x 17 inches
Emulate the Fight Against America
1972; T. Jam; silkscreen on paper; 24 3/4 x 17 1/4 inches
Many Thanks to the People of the World for Your Support
1972; Nguyen Trinh Than; pencil and tempera on paper; 15 1/2 x 24 1/4 inches
Never Forget: Kham Thien, Uy No, Bach Mai, An Duong, Luong Yen, Gia Lam [bomb sites]
1972; P. Hao (probably Pham Hao); pencil, tempera and collaged newsprint on paper; 17 x 23 3/4 inches
Nothing is More Precious Than Freedom and Independence
1972; Nguyen Hiep; pencil, tempera and stencil on paper; 24 1/2 x 17 inches
The People of Viet Nam Will Win! The American Imperialist Will Lose!
Protect and Save the Country's Cultural Heritage
1972; unidentifiable signature; pencil, tempera, and gold paint on paper; 17 x 24 1/4 inches
Stop Use of Gas in Viet Nam. Support Viet Nam Against America
1972; M. Anh; pencil and tempera on paper; 25 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches
Strive to Train Soldiers to Be in a Position to Defend the Nation
1971; H. Hoan; pencil and tempera on paper; 25 1/2 x 17 3/4 inches
Take the Road to Protect the Motherland!
1972; Pham Thanh Liem; pencil and tempera on paper; 31 x 21 1/2 inches
Victorious Viet Nam
nd; pencil and tempera on paper; 30 3/4 x 21 1/4 inches
Viet Nam's Ultimate Triumph
nd; N. Bich; pencil, tempera and gold leaf on paper; 30 3/4 x 42 3/4 inches
A Way Out for Nixon
1972; Nguyen Van Xuan; tempera on paper; 23 3/4 x 16 inches
We Must Increase the Production of Salt to Satisfy the People's Needs. Mobilize the Workers and Collective Farmers to Use Sun and the Salt Fields Effectivly and to Produce in an Organized Fashion with Principle and for High Production. [from the Resolution of the Communist Party's 22nd Congress]
1974; Nguyen Dang Phu; pencil and tempera on paper; 30 3/4 x 34 1/4 inches
Whether [American Bombers] Fly High or Low, They Cannot Escape
1972; Dai Dong; silkscreen on paper; 24 1/4 x 17 inches
[Woman Giving Soldier Cup of Tea, Demonstrating Civilian Support to the Army]
1970; Ngoc Tho; pencil and tempera on paper; 21 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches
Posters from Cuba
III Simposio Contra el Genocidio Yanki en Viet-Nam y su Extensión a Laos y Cambodia, Mayo 19, 1972 [Third Symposium Against Yankee Genocide in Viet Namand Its Expansion into Laos and Cambodia]
1972; Alfredo Rostgaard; silkscreen on paper; 24 x 15 5/8 inches
Cesen las Violaciones. Exigimos el Cumplimiento de los Acuerdos de Paris. [Stop the Violations. We Demand Compliance With the Paris Peace Accord.]
ca. 1973; Modesto Braulio, photo by Oscar Pérez; Organización Continental Latinoamericana de Estudiantes; offset; 26 3/4 x 19 5/16 inches
Jornada Continental de Apoya a Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos
[Day of Continental Support for Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos]
nd; Organización Continental Latinoamericana de Estudiantes; offset; 22 7/8 x 13 3/16 inches
La Paz de Nixon [Nixon's Peace]
1972; Lazaro Abreu; Organization in Solidarity with the People of Asia, AFrica and Latin America; offset; 21 1/4 x 13 3/4 inches
nd; Fremez; silkscreen on paper; 18 3/8 x 24 1/8 inches
[Nixon as Vampire]
nd; Organization in Solidarity with the People of Asia, AFrica and Latin America; offset; 21 7/16 x 13 9/16 inches
[Nixon Ripping Out Heart (Laos) of Southeast Asia]
1971; René Mederos; Organization in Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America; offset 21 7/16 x 13 9/16 inches
Pre Simposio Sobre Genocidio Yanki Indochina [Symposium About Yankee Genocide in Indochina]
1972; Jesus Gallardo; Comité Cubano de Solidaridad con Viet Nam, Cambodia y Laos; silkscreen 28 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches
1972; Olivio Martinez; Organization in Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America; offset; 20 1/2 x 12 5/8 inches
1969; René Mederos; silkscreen on paper; 23 1/4 x 26 3/8 inches
1969; René Mederos; silkscreen on paper; 22 1/4 x 26 inches
Viet Nam! Abril 1975
1975; Organization in Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America; offset; 27 3/4 x 19 1/2 inches
Viet Nam Shall Win
nd; Organization in Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America; offset; 21 1/4 x 13 13/16 inches
1969; René Mederos; silkscreen on paper; 29 1/8 x 22 1/16 inches
Ya se Desenmascaro la Traición. Viet Nam Vencera! [Now the Traitor is Unmasked. Victory to Viet Nam!]
nd; Clarida Figueredo; Comité Cubano de Solidaridad con Viet Nam; offset; 29 1/2 x 20 1/16 inches