The Black Panthers and their High-Impact Art
Need is the mother of creativity, and that is especially true when you want to change the world.
The 20th century was closer than ever to achieving the longed-for marriage between art and social revolution: at the edge of propaganda and the advertising industry, visual arts went beyond workshops and reappeared in shop windows, only to go back to museums converted into paintings of shelves of soup.
During the swinging Sixties, the artist Emory Douglas played a fundamental role in the configuration of a racial identity that was able to mobilize the balance of social equality.
The documentary about Douglas’ participation as the “official artist” or minister of culture of the Black Panthers is particularly moving and illustrative because it allows us to recognize the ideological effectiveness of art at a time of political and racial upheaval; by founding the official newspaper of the Black Panther party, Douglas and his colleagues reminded the people of the US that it was a country that suffered racial segregation and unchecked police violence against the non-white population, and especially blacks.
With a style determined by the lack of material and the need to keep costs down despite the rise in demand, the Black Panthers newspaper kept a dialog alive for almost 15 years with the collective imagination, and we owe the common association of the police force personified as a pig to Douglas’ work.
It is enough to see the cartoons published in a 400,000-per-week circulation to see how such images have permeated the collective fabric through time and across borders.
Although Douglas left the party he has never ceased to seek a link between art and social change, either from teaching or exhibiting his works around the world.
Giving a voice to the poor and oppressed and joining them in their just demands for freedom is a job worthy of an artist that seeks to understand and positively influence history beyond offering criticism; art as a philosophy of social change.
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