Art design

‘Strikethrough’ Chronicles History of Protest Art in the Bay Area and Beyond

Of Keith Haring at Shepard Faireymany famous artists have left their mark on political and protest art.

But the mission of Barré: Typographic messages of protest—a new social justice-focused art exhibit opening this weekend at Archives of letters— is to support artists/activists in the field alongside professional image-makers.

It’s one of the themes of the show, actually,” said Stephen Coles, Editorial Director and Associate Curator of Letterform Archive. “Professional designers rub shoulders with everyday people who now have the tools to create something to get their message across.”

Coles, also co-curator of Rodassembled the collection of broadsides, buttons, signs, T-shirts, posters and ephemera spanning the 1800s to present with guest curator Silas Munro of the Los Angeles-based design studio Polymode.

Tim Paschke, a local graphic designer, admires ‘Strikethrough,’ a typographic protest art exhibit, in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif., Thursday, June 21, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Divided into five different militant action sections: “VOTE!”, “RESIST!”, “LOVE!”, “TEACH!” and “STRIKE!” – the exhibition illustrates the power of protest art in social justice movements through a historical sample of image-makers.

A handmade collage created by a Black Lives Matter protester intersects with a typographic image made by a nationally known graphic designer. Buttons and crests from the anti-fascist and punk rock movements sit alongside protest posters made by professional artists. And the imagery and iconography of the politically themed t-shirts carries as much weight as the lambasted messages on the protest posters, emphasizing another subtle theme of the show: the intersection of the body with protest art.

“One of the things we wanted to show…isn’t just political posters or signs, but also how people have used typography, even on their bodies,” Coles said. “Typography is not far removed from humans…Many of them [items] talk about very human personal issues, and one of the most personal ways to convey your message is to wear it.

Stephen Coles, co-curator of ‘Strikethrough,’ a typographic protest art exhibit at Letterform Archive, discusses art with the press in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif., Thursday, June 21, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

For example, the performance art group Brick x Brick created a series of jumpsuits – one of which is on display in the exhibit – that its members would wear during demonstrations to protest former President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. The combinations feature black and white brick-shaped squares, evoking a brick wall, and derogatory words and phrases Trump would use to describe women on colorful patches.

Another standout item on display is a 1979 screen-printed tank top by an unknown designer commemorating San Francisco’s history. White Night Riots, which began in reaction to the light conviction of former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, who assassinated Castro District Supervisor Harvey Milk and then San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. The article was donated to Letterform Archive by a volunteer who was living at the Castro at the time. He sits next to a striking “Silence=Death” t-shirt, which became an iconic slogan and wearable iconography during the 1980s AIDS crisis.

“It’s one of the most powerful ways to talk about what’s important to you is to have it on your body and go through the day with that message on your chest,” Coles said.

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And of course, take it out on the street.

Ultimately, Munro and Coles hope the exhibit can empower potential artists and activists.

“I think part of my hopes for this show is that people who aren’t always invited to talk about design or think about design are invited to participate in the exhibition,” Munro said.

“We just want people to get away from that thought, ‘OK, you know, something is important to me.’ I can also create art, although I may not have any experience with it,” Coles said.


‘Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest’ opens with a reception from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Letterform Archive’s Dogpatch Gallery on Saturday, July 23. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Visit letterformarchive.org to RSVP Where get a virtual preview of the show.

Christina Campodonico can be contacted at [email protected].

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