Art Is A Revolutionary Weapon: Emory Douglas


By: Juan José Olivares

 ** “Obama is a puppet at the service of the corporations… he is not very different from George W. Bush,” he expresses in an interview

** Minister of Culture of that group’s political party, he asserts that: “they only demanded social programs from the government for the unprotected”

** Today, civil rights in the US is set aside, he says

** The creator of the front pages for the Black Panther newspaper exhibits at Vértigo Galería

One of Douglas' recent works

One of Douglas’ recent works

Emory Douglas is the revolutionary artist. That’s how Eldridge Cleaver, member and publisher of the Black Panther Party (BPP) baptized him. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the BPP in the United States in the 1960’s, after the death of Malcolm X. The premise of this political entity was the inflexible defense of the Afro American community’s civil rights. The movement was known in many parts of the world for its left posture.

Emory Douglas was the creator of the art and designs on the front and back pages of the Black Panther Newspaper, which, he says, achieved publishing up to 400,000 copies per week. He was also the Minister of Culture for that party, from 1967 to the beginning of the ‘80s, when a hostile tirade from the government finished it off. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) came to consider it a public enemy, among other reasons, because some members carried guns, “under the legal framework of the United States Constitution,” says Emory Douglas, who used the attractive publicity methods of that time to change them in to information weapons.

“Art is a revolutionary weapon,” he comments in an interview with La Jornada, held at Vértigo Galería, where his works, the front pages of the mentioned newspaper, are exhibited in a show that will close next November.

Genius of the cartoon, the collage and recycling

His images illustrate the words of his community, persecuted by racism, which detonated “self-defense in the face of civil rights violations carried out by the government. We only demanded that they carry out social programs for our community and unprotected people. For example, we wanted free breakfasts for all the children in the country… That was a big problem for the government,” ironizes Douglas, whose ingenuity as a cartoonist, in collage and recycling, gave the newspaper an explosive message.

Today, those low-cost printed illustrations (like in photo static copies), have been mounted in different museums of contemporary art, and have even been the motive for a book, but initially they wanted “to educate the people about what the government wasn’t doing for the most unprotected classes.”

In 2012, Douglas participated in the Zapanteras Project, a meeting between the Zapatista Movement and the Black Panthers, represented with the assembly of seven of his works, which were embroidered by indigenous hands, and which incorporated in textiles, Zapatista and Maya symbols.

It is a response by nature. He asserts that United States President “Barack Obama is a puppet at the service of the corporations. He does not talk much about the Black community’s progress. He does not mention anything about political prisoners… We know that his term is not very different from that of George W. Bush, or from that of many other presidents in the United States. Before he arrived in office, the people had hope, but, in the end, he was not very different from Bush.”

The art of Emory Douglas is inflexible, confrontational and even violent, but it is also festive and inspiring. He was looking for a premise: returning power to the people.

He added: “The connection of art and politics was a natural way to inform. The images played an important role. I observed, I understood and I communicated. I knew that artistic expression is fundamental for inspiring change, for spreading ideas, the demand for social programs. It is possible to change consciences through it. The media manipulated information. And culture had to be used for disseminating ideas.”

–How are civil rights in the United States today?

–They are set aside. Things have progressed, but are forgotten. September 11, 2001 created a psychosis in the government, which started to be more rigid as to that theme. The least protected are those that suffer the consequences.

He joins the Movement

Emory came to the party after connecting with the black arts movement. He went to a meeting in which he sought to make a poster for an event planned by Malcolm X’s widow, at which he met the Black Panther leaders.

“The first time that I met Eldridge Cleaver there were texts, pencils, erasers… colors on a table and he asked me: What can you do with that? Later he recommended that I should be careful, because if the police caught me with those sketches, they could arrest me,” he comments.

“Those illustrations were, in a way, catharsis for me. The colors –primaries– were essential, because they were those used in publicity at that time,” he said.

The exhibit of Emory’s work will stay open until the end of this coming November in Vértigo Galería, located in Colima 23 local A, in Colonia Roma. More information by telephone 5207-3590 and at Visiting hours are on Monday to Friday from 12 to 8 PM, and on Saturdays from 12 to 7 and Sundays from 12 to 6 PM.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Source in Spanish (En español):


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