This year, social justice organizing and art will be coming together at DePaul University Special Collections and Archives. Beginning in February, the library will feature a rotating display of protest art by different organizations as part of its newest exhibit, “Voices of Protest/Voces de Protesta.” Presented with minimal captioning, the exhibit provides the DePaul community an opportunity to experience the messages of the pieces, and the issues and concerns they confront, through the artists’ eyes.
The movements reflected in the exhibit are various. One set of poster prints on display is from the Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of an organization originally formed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1967. On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, the organizers of the campaign sent out a call to artists for artwork that emphasized the organization’s goal of fighting to end poverty, racism, militarism and environmental destruction. The posters included in the portfolio resulted from this call, though there is one poster that notably harkens back to the campaign’s origins – a poster featuring a 1968 political cartoon originally published by the campaign in that same year.
Another set of poster prints is from the portfolio, “This is an Emergency!,” a compilation of protest art from different organizations and movements put together to unite the voices of those fighting inequality and discrimination against women, members of the LGBTQ community and non-gender conforming individuals. The intersectionality of the movements included in this portfolio is representative of the movements showcased in the exhibit as a whole. Though these movements may seem distinct and specific at first glance, the issues they revolve around affect everyone and are an indicator of the state of society overall.
A third portfolio represented in the exhibit, and perhaps the most notable, is that of Voces de los Artistos, an art-based affiliate of Voces de la Frontera. Voces de la Frontera is a Milwaukee-based immigration rights group that, following the 2016 American presidential election, decided to make the relationship between protest organizing and art more concrete by forming Voces de los Artistos. The artists of Voces de los Artistos create their pieces at pop-up art builds, which are open to everyone and allow protest art to be created on a mass scale that was previously impossible. A portion of the results of these builds can now be seen on the walls of SPCA – beautiful and moving silkscreen prints, many showing the faces of those most affected by anti-immigration policies. One of the most powerful pieces, however, does not feature any faces at all. Instead, it features a human heart painted in a vibrant red, with vines sprouting out of it. It reads, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
The artwork featured in this exhibit is from portfolio collections specifically created for preservation and fundraising. The artwork itself was created for protest actions, but these copies were set aside so they would not be damaged or lost. In selling portfolio sets to university collections, the nonprofit groups raise needed funds as well as ensure samples of their art and message will endure. In displaying the work of these particular movements, SPCA hopes to encourage a dialogue that can encompass additional social justice movements. In pursuit of this goal, SPCA will continue to look for and support diverse representations of activism.
“Voices of Protest/Voces de Protesta” will be on display in the John T. Richardson Library, room 314, throughout 2019, with three rotations of artwork in order to share as many pieces as possible. All are welcome to view the exhibit during SPCA’s open hours, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.