LEARN: FYA Asks the Curators of Pacific Standard Time

Posted on: September 29th, 2011

Carol A. Wells and Mary Sutton Discuss Their Exhibition Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change at the University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).

 

Throughout Pacific Standard Time, ForYourArt is asking curators of the more than 60 exhibition for insight into their shows. Leading off with why their lead image is important they will give us topics to discuss as you go through the exhibition and where you can learn more afterward.

Visit Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change. at the University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) through December 11.

 

How does the image Free Richard Mohawk and Paul Skyhorse represent your exhibition?

This poster perfectly represents both the role of Peace Press and the dangerous political climate of the times.  Richard Mohawk and Paul Skyhorse were organizers for the American Indian Movement (AIM) who were victims of an elaborate FBI conspiracy.  During this time, the FBI illegally infiltrated many activist organizations, including AIM,
the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and many anti-war and civil rights groups under the auspices of their Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).  The FBI’s goals were not just to gain information, but to disrupt, discredit and destroy.  With the Mohawk and Skyhorse case they accomplished all three goals.When Mohawk and Skyhorse were falsely accused of a brutal murder, an FBI operative who had infiltrated the top AIM leadership, advised AIM to disassociate from the case, and provide no legal or financial support.  After being held without bond in the Ventura County prison, and realizing that AIM would provide no assistance, they contacted Peace Press and asked for help.  Peace Press produced several posters to raise awareness of the men’s unjust detention, including this one.  In 1978, after four years of incarceration, Skyhorse and Mohawk were found not guilty.  However, the apparent frame-up had succeeded; the Southern California AIM was financially devastated by the trial and fractured beyond repair.

This poster – as the other posters in the exhibition – also serves as a primary historical document, containing information that may have been common knowledge at the time the poster was made, but decades later has been obliterated or forgotten. Not all political prisoners had the high profile of an Angela Davis or Leonard Peltier, but lacking a high media profile does not invalidate their importance as part of a larger peace and justice movement.

On the contrary, to write a more balanced history it is imperative that these movements and activists are documented whenever possible.  This poster tells an important story that might otherwise be forgotten.

 

What do you hope visitors will think about or consider while they are at the exhibition? What are some discussion topics they could raise?

The goal of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time is to document the development of the art scene in Los Angeles post World War II.

In addition, this exhibition exemplifies two unintended consequences.  First, that the political poster is a legitimate art form that has too long been marginalized.  Second, that Los Angeles has long been an important center of political activism and political poster making. Los Angeles is too often seen through the lens of movie stars and car chases. This exhibition tells a different story.  Moreover, seven Pacific Standard Time exhibitions—more than 10% of the exhibitions—include protest posters from the archive of the . The display of so many protest posters in art exhibitions throughout Los Angeles and Long Beach, documents both the history of grass roots political organizing in this region, and demonstrates that protest posters are an important, though often unrecognized art form.

A more sobering point to consider is how much—and how little—has changed.  We are still dealing with the same issues…unpopular wars, nuclear power, pollution, healthcare, political prisoners, homophobia, and sexism.  It is also striking how some things have changed. In our post-September 11th society, could the Tourist Guide to Target L.A.—which lists all the nuclear reactors, nuclear waste and weapon stockpiles, as well as  major bomb shelters, think tanks, and military sites from Canoga Park to Costa Mesa—be printed without a visit from Homeland Security?   Would a print shop whose members wouldn’t print anything they disagreed with be able to simultaneously print posters celebrating the founding of Israel and expressing solidarity with the struggles of the Palestinian people?

Where would you direct someone who wanted to learn more about this topic?

Peace Press 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change has aninformative 200 page catalog reproducing more than 100 posters.  The five chapters and other essays in the catalog were written by activists, artists, and academics, whose diverse perspectives and first-hand experiences provide a unique and insightful view into a not-so-distant past.  It also gives important lessons for the present.  Additional information on political posters, and a list of all the exhibitions currently displaying CSPG posters, can be found on our website.

 

by Sarah Williams

Also see Pacific Standard Time Photography and Printmaking, Westside Edition.

 

Image Captions:

1. (lead) Peace Press, Jeremy M. Palmer, Resist! October 16, 1967.

2. Peace Press, Free Richard Mohawk and Paul Skyhorse, 1976-78, Offset print, 23×18 in, © Peace Press.

3. Peace Press, Vote. Register, 1972, Offset print, 21.5×13.5 in. © Peace Press.

4. Peace Press, Don Farber, Alliance for Survival, n.d., Offset print, 23.43×17.32 in. © Peace Press.

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