L. J. Roberts’s banners champion women’s empowerment and LGBTQ rights, drawing from the do-it-yourself aesthetic of the 1960s social movements. The women and rifle depicted were adopted from a postcard the artist found at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, suggesting a lineage of radical women’s politics. Combining the slick industrial technique of punch-card automated weaving with lovingly worn and frayed craft ribboning, the artist challenges hierarchies of mastery and skill, just as her images call for social and political reorganization.
Interference Archive is a volunteer-run organization that collects, researches, archives, and produces exhibitions and programs about the relationship between cultural production and social change. Many objects in its collection were donated by either makers of the work or participants in the movements or campaigns that the work supported.
The display features one piece of printed matter produced in conjunction with each of Interference Archive’s exhibitions through 2015. The slogan featured on one of the posters, “We are who we archive,” expresses the group’s philosophy of community-driven collecting and curating, reflecting the collaborative and grassroots process of social movements.
El Zeft’s stencil of a riot-ready Queen Nefertiti first appeared on Cairo streets in 2012, as, in his words, “a tribute to all women in our beloved Revolution.” When Amnesty International initiated a global campaign to address mounting human rights violations in Egypt, their German section partnered with El Zeft to make this their symbol. Amnesty activists wrote thousands of letters to the Egyptian authorities and president, circulated petitions, held protest marches with self-made Nefertiti banners, and wore bloodied masks using the image. Based on a famous statue in Berlin’s Neues Museum, El Zeft’s updated icon helped to build media attention and worldwide pressure.
On March 8, 1917, thousands of women in Petrograd (present-day Saint Petersburg) celebrated International Working Women's Day by marching in protest of poor wages and inadequate living conditions. The demonstrations became the catalyst for the Russian Revolution, cementing women's crucial role in the insurrection.
Valentina Kulagina, a leading figure in postrevolutionary poster design, synthesized Constructivist photomontage with a hand-drawn rendering of a resolute female leader in this commemoration of Working Women's Day. Produced more than a decade after the revolution, this poster reflects women’s continuing struggle for labor equity as they entered the workforce in greater numbers without relief from traditional domestic duties.
Between 1979 and 1982, a series of brightly colored posters anonymously appeared throughout the streets of New York City. Created by Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essays appropriates writings from a variety of influential political figures, all pushing strong ideological agendas that are never explicitly named. Confronting passersby with this polemical language from unattributed sources, the intervention was intended to provoke awareness of the innumerable manipulative messages received in public spaces and, simultaneously, the ongoing need for ideas encouraging social change, or even revolution.
Galvanized by the urgency of the AIDS crisis, which had reached critical levels by the late 1980s, the New York–based collective Gran Fury slyly adopted advertising techniques, humor, and a sensational tone aimed at pressuring the general public and politicians to take action. The collective, which grew out of the activist group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), largely launched their graphic campaigns and demonstrations in public spaces where they would reach broad swaths of the population.
In 1991 this poster was installed in one hundred bus shelters in both Spanish and English, confronting New Yorkers and the Center for Disease Control with a demand for more inclusive AIDS/HIV healthcare.
SAHMAT, meaning “in agreement” in Hindi, was formed after the deadly beating of the socialist street theater activist Safdar Hashmi by a ruling-party candidate and his followers during a performance in 1989. Responding to such sectarian violence, the organization advocates for mutual respect within diversity through creative curatorial, performance, and publishing platforms.
One of SAHMAT's earliest efforts took advantage of existing street culture to maximize visibility for their message. The group invited Delhi's taxi drivers to redecorate their rickshaws with commentary on the theme of communal harmony. The one here reads: “Call Him Ishwar, Allah, Wahe-Guru, or Shri Ram, if you will; these are but different names for the one creator.” After the official competition for best design, many rickshaws kept these painted slogans in circulation for years.
December 11, 2015–August 7, 2016
At key moments in history, artists have reached beyond galleries and museums, using their work as a call to action to create political and social change. For the past hundred years, the term agitprop, a combination of agitation and propaganda, has directly reflected the intent of this work.
Agitprop! connects contemporary art devoted to social change with historic moments in creative activism, highlighting activities that seek to motivate broad and diverse publics. Exploring the complexity, range, and impact of these artistic practices—including photography, film, prints, banners, street actions, songs, digital files, and web platforms—the exhibition expands over its run within a unique and dynamic framework. It opened with works by twenty contemporary artists responding to urgent issues of the day, in dialogue with five historical case studies. A second wave of contemporary work was added on February 17, 2016 and a third will be added on April 6, 2016—with each wave of artists choosing those in the next.
These projects highlight struggles for social justice since the turn of the twentieth century, from women’s suffrage and antilynching campaigns to contemporary demands for human rights, environmental advocacy, and protests against war, mass incarceration, and economic inequality.
The first round of invited artists includes Luis Camnitzer, Chto Delat?, Zhang Dali, Dyke Action Machine!, Friends of William Blake, Coco Fusco, Futurefarmers, Ganzeer, Gran Fury, Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, Los Angeles Poverty Department, Yoko Ono, Otabenga Jones & Associates, Martha Rosler, Sahmat Collective, Dread Scott, Adejoke Tugbiyele, Cecilia Vicuña and John Dugger, and, in a collaborative work, The Yes Men with Steve Lambert, CODEPINK, May First/People Link, Evil Twin, Improv Everywhere, and Not An Alternative, along with more than thirty writers, fifty advisers, and a thousand volunteer distributors.
The second round of artists includes Amnesty International and El Zeft, Jelili Atiku, David Brower and Jerry Mander, Nancy Buchanan, Interference Archive, Lady Pink, Marina Naprushkina, Not An Alternative, Occupy Museums, Shani Peters, Jenny Polak, Laurie Jo Reynolds, L.J. Roberts, Huang Rui, Inder Salim, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Andrew Tider and Jeff Greenspan, and Ultra-red.
The third round of artists includes Andrea Bowers, Combat Paper (with Kevin Basl, Drew Cameron, and Nathan Lewis), Andy Dao and Ivan Cash, Song Dong, Enmedio, Faith47, Khushboo Gulati, The Illuminator, Marisa Morán Jahn (Studio REV-) and Yael Melamede (SALTY Features), Ato Malinda, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Pussy Riot, Rena Raedle and Vladan Jeremić, Manuela Ribadeneira, Visual AIDS (with Tania Anderson, Beverly Bland Boydston III, Jean Foos, Reina Gossett, Kia Labeija, Alice O'Malley, Morgan M. Page, Jamie Q, Elizabeth Marie Rivera, L.J. Roberts, Sue Schaffner, Sarinya Srisakul, and Jessica Whitbread), and Weird Allan Kaprow (Erin Charpentier, Zachary Gough, Travis Neel, and Sharita Towne). With an additional project by Alexander Dwinell, Noah Fischer, The Illuminator, Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP), Not An Alternative, Sarah Quinter of Mi Casa No Es Su Casa and Derecho a Techo, Antonio Serna of Color Bloc and Arts & Labor's Alternative Economies Working Group, Ultra-red, and Betty Yu.
Agitprop! is organized by the staff of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Saisha Grayson, Assistant Curator; Catherine J. Morris, Sackler Family Curator; Stephanie Weissberg, Curatorial Assistant; and Jess Wilcox, former Programs Coordinator.