Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Paint It Black Panther: Emory Douglas at the New Museum
from the article,
It's 1967, and you're starting a newspaper for a grassroots organization. Problem is, your readership isn't, as Bobby Seale puts it, really "a reading community." How do you get the word out?
Along comes Emory Douglas, a self-professed former juvenile delinquent who has been drawing since childhood and got directed to art school. He has had some training in commercial art at the City College of San Francisco, has worked in a print shop, and knows how to do layout and paste-up. More important, he's into the message. A great artist is born.
If you haven't heard of Douglas, that's because he hasn't been on the radar in what artist Adrian Piper has called the "Euroethnic" (read: predominately white) art world for long. In 2002, Los Angeles–based Sam Durant, a white artist whose work often cites upheavals of the 1960s, asked Douglas to lecture in conjunction with one of his shows. Durant subsequently put together a monograph and curated a show at the MOCA Pacific Design Center in L.A., and now this one, the New Museum's "Emory Douglas: Black Panther."
The other reason that Douglas isn't familiar is because he's an example of something you hear about, but rarely encounter: a true revolutionary artist. Douglas signed on as Revolutionary Artist of the Black Panther Party and later became the Party's Minister of Culture. The New Museum show covers Douglas's efforts from 1966 to 1977, when the paper, The Black Panther, ceased publication. But what makes Douglas's work "revolutionary" is that it was first and foremost about its connection with the community and the evolving concerns of the Party rather than being a solely personal aesthetic agenda.
The spare offset lithographs hung on the wall and the editions of The Black Panther housed in vitrines from the early days, 1966 and 1967, show iconic images of Panthers in black berets, toting guns. Throughout the show, it's stressed that the impetus for forming the party was to protect the black community—initially of Oakland, California—from police brutality. The Panthers were about defense rather than offense—inspired by Malcolm X's decree, "By any means necessary." Co-founder Huey Newton described the panther as an animal that never attacks unprovoked, but "defends itself to death." (The Party was originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, but the "self-defense" part was later dropped.)
Posted by Chris Mansel at 10:26 PM