Lincoln Cushing (right), curator of the exhibition speaks with café gallery visitors Margarita Brown and Randy Brown.
Artist unknown, 1970
Break out : None of us are free til all of us are free
Women of all walks of life and ages, whose lives may seem disconnected, have much in common: the constraints that bind them as well as their potential liberation. The freedom of each, this poster proposes, is bound up with the freedom of all.
The idea of “sisterhood” extends to women an appreciation of connection that receives expression in every culture. Using the masculine vocabulary of his time, John Donne wrote early in the 17th century:
“No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Berkeley-Oakland Women’s Union, 1975
Women under capitalism must mrganize: demonstration 1975.
The Berkeley-Oakland Women’s Union was one among about twenty “women’s unions” that were founded across the country in the early 1970s,
This is one of four posters in a series that illustrates the ways in which women can work together to advance social and personal change.
The other three posters depict women involved in a consciousness raising group, in making leaflets on a mimeograph machine, and in pasting a poster to a wall.
Bruce Kaiper, 1975
Can’t wipe those blues
During World War II, many women took factory jobs. The independence that they experienced in the workplace helped to set the stage for 2nd-wave feminism, which got underway in the early 1960s.
Independence, though, was apt to raise profound questions about personal identity. In this image a metalworker sees her own reflection in a metal plate. That reflection is superimposed upon an additional image of a woman holding a child (whose head is visible next to the woman’s right hand) . Is she perhaps balancing representations of herself as metal worker and as mother?
Jane Norling, 1973
Women Health Workers Conference
Womens’ traditional roles in health care have been those of helpers, subservient to doctors.
But in the ‘60s and ‘70s women reclaimed authority over their own bodies, and reinterpreted the scope of medical care to encompass wide dimensions of physical and mental health and illness.
The book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” became a classic in a new literature about how women collectively and individually can look after their own health.
Men’s healthcare, too, was transformed to the degree that orthodox medical approaches learned from the new insights and practices that women developed
Artist unknown, 1975
West Coast Conference of Socialist-Feminist Organizations
This conference was sponsored by the Berkeley-Oakland Women’s Union. Like many of the women’s unions nationwide, this one was socialist, and joined issues of women’s liberation to issues of social class. Workers and women were regarded as have closely linked interests.
These unions grew rapidly but became as riven by competing ideological tendencies and allegiances as was the wider Left to which they belonged. As that Left declined in the late 1970s, they declined as well.
But what women had realized could not be so easily taken away. From women’s organizations came a generation of activists with organizing skills and understandings that in subsequent decades they put to good use in trade unions, schools, work places, government institutions, and their personal as well as political relationships.
Red Pepper Posters (Barbara Morgan), 1976
“Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.” – Emma Goldman
The female nude in the poster invokes an early modern European anatomical illustration that unites sexuality and science.
In the 1970s, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English published pamphlets and books critiquing the medical view of women, past and present.
In many cultures, women are regarded as passive and available objects of men’s attention. But Emma Goldman was anything but silent, and encouraged all women to make their voices heard and take control of their own lives.
Artist unknown, circa 1971
Free Angela & all political prisoners
Angela Davis is an African-American political activist, socialist, philosopher and retired UC Santa Cruz professor. She was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and was associated with the Black Panthers.
Born and raised in Birmingham Alabama, Davis went to Brandeis University, then studied with Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse in San Diego.
In 1970, a Superior Court judge was abducted from a California courtroom and murdered during an effort to free a convict. The firearms used in the attack were purchased in Davis's name. She was arrested and accused of being an accomplice to conspiracy, kidnapping, and homicide. In 1972, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
Doug Minkler, 1983
All of us or none
Like many modern artists, Minkler brings abstraction into his representations of the human figure. But his use of color and jagged form conveys an intensity and passion of commitment as powerful as that of any “realistic” portrayal.
Minkler: “My prints are inspired not by rugged individualism, but by the collective humor, defiance, and lust for life exhibited by those on the margins.”
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.