IRJE #5: Artistic Activism

In Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People, Kekla Magoon provides insight into a group of young people intent on changing the world, and the revolutionary socialist movement they founded. Magoon presents a comprehensive history of Black American History from the arrival of enslaved Africans, to the civil rights movement, to Black Lives Matter today. The chapter “Revolutionary Art” discusses Emory Douglas’s political cartoons in the Black Panther newspaper.

“Emory’s images . . . helped the average protestor and grassroots organizer define the phenomena of who and what our oppressors were,” Bobby Seale said.

. . . “The Black Panther newspapers . . . were irresistible to me,” said Colette Gaiter, a high school student in D.C. at the time. “With their huge typographical headlines, use of color, and strikingly rendered drawings of black people . . . I was attracted to Douglas’s images because they showed both anger and hope.”

. . . The Black Panther also frequently ran visual art, poems, and song lyrics created by other members. These pieces helped express the creativity and the desires of the Black community and gave regular people a chance to contribute to the Panther message. (p. 124-125)

This makes me think of the power of visual art, and how the right image can strengthen a message. Protest artists like Emory Douglas used art to make social commentary, and to engage people to think critically. Their work remains relevant because it reflects inequities that persist in society today. In my personal project, I explore visual storytelling and how art connects people. Magoon’s book inspires me to learn more about artistic activism and how it is used to fuel social progress.

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