Agitprop in Times of Uncertainty

June 20, 2020 • 
2 min read

This was originally published as an item in Issue 005 of the designspun email newsletter.

Great art can be born out of great unrest. Anti-government, anti-evil propaganda harnesses the frustration and despair people feel in times of crisis. Mark Fox and Angie Wang (aka Design Is Play) are following up their award-winning “Trump 24K Gold-Plated” poster with a new series of anti-Trump agitprop. The pair have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund three posters, “Trump: Lord of the Lies” and a diptych called “White Lies Matter.”

From their Kickstarter page:

We designed Trump: Lord of the Lies to create a succinct mnemonic for Donald Trump’s corruption. Likewise, the White Lies Matter diptych crystallizes Donald Trump’s history of rhetorical flirtations with white supremacists. And after he is voted out of office, this work will add to the body of evidence that many Americans can still tell the difference between what is true, and what is false.

(Side note: I used Design Is Play’s No Trump symbol in my little anti-Trump agitprop, Inside Trump’s Brain, a single-page website to protest then-candidate Trump.)

Protest art is created all around the world. Hong Kong-based designers last year made many compelling posters. Most take the stance of solidarity in the face of an overbearing and overreaching authority. Hence images that reference the Galactic Empire from Star Wars or homages to Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

Raw defiance gives way to a more hopeful aesthetic from Shepard Fairey’s We the People series from three years ago. Slogans such as “Defend Dignity” and “We the Resilient have been here before” adorn striking portraits of people of color. I remember seeing so many of these during the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

In The New Yorker, Nell Painter highlights a couple of anti-racist artists from the 1960s, photographer Howard L. Bingham who took many pictures of the Black Panther Party, and Emory Douglas:

More intriguing to me now is the agitprop artwork of Emory Douglas, the B.P.P. Minister of Culture, which was published in the The Black Panther newspaper and plastered around the Bay Area as posters. Week after week, Douglas’s searing wit visualized the urgency for action, such as this image of children carrying photographs, one that shows police victimizing a child…