How do we remember a social protest movement? Often by words that have been left behind: founding documents, manifestos, flyers, and the like. But visual artifacts can be powerful too: sometimes a movement’s images reveal its deepest character and commitments.
That’s the case for an exhibition of posters that is being shown at a café/coffee house called “Local 123” (www.local123gallery.com), named after a Painters’ Local union hall that previously occupied the space. The posters, all of which were created here in the Bay Area, will be on display through June 1.
The posters gathered for this exhibition come from various local collections, including Michael Rossman's "All Of Us Or None" archive. Rossman, who was a leader of the Free Speech Movement in 1964, a social activist, teacher, and historian, assembled this archive, which now consists of 24,000 posters. The entire collection is being donated to the Oakland Museum.
Made during the so-called “Second Wave” of feminism that began in the 1960s, these images express a Women’s Movement that aimed to shake the very foundations of society and culture, and still does. The posters represent a wide range of causes and experiences. They show women in diverse walks of life – as industrial workers and labor union organizers, as mothers, nurses, and guerilla fighters. This art subjects all of these roles to critical scrutiny: at issue are all the gender positions and relationships that shape the identities of men and women, influencing the ways in which we view ourselves and one another.
The Women’s Movement, here in the Bay Area and worldwide, developed in close relation with other movements of the time, including the anti-war and labor movements (hence the appropriateness of holding the exhibition at what used to be a union headquarters). In many cases we do not know the identities of the artists themselves; their posters were typically designed and created anonymously. Although the artists were often called upon to work quickly, under the pressure of the moment, they created works of beauty and meaning that remain compelling today.
I had already seen some of these posters in books, but what surprised me, upon viewing the original images in full-size, attractively displayed on the walls of this labor-oriented cafe, was how much more powerful they are in their original form than in reproductions. Hence I encourage Daily Planet readers to see the exhibition for themselves. It recreates a world of the past, but one whose issues and messages are quite contemporary.
A free lecture and slideshow about the exhibition will be given on May Day (Saturday, May 1) at 5 PM at the coffee house. The presenter will be archivist Lincoln Cushing, who together with Emma Spertus assembled the exhibition. Cushing, formerly a librarian at U.C. Berkeley's Bancroft Library and at the Institute of Industrial Relations, is a poster maker himself and has published four books about poster art. Spertus, too, is an artist.
Café Local 123 is located at 2049 San Pablo in Berkeley, a half a block South of University Ave., and is open Monday to Friday 6:30 am to 7:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. As of May 1, the café will be open until 10:30 PM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
See below eight of the exhibition posters.