PROTEST! A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics (By the Book)

From the French, Mexican, and Sandinista revolutions to the American civil rights movement, nuclear disarmament, and the Women's March of 2017, PROTEST!, by Liz McQuiston, documents the integral role of the visual arts in passionate efforts for change. Enjoy this excerpt, courtesy of Princeton University Press.

Protest!: A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics
Liz McQuiston
Quarto Publishing / Princeton University Press
October 2019

Social discontent and political protest have been expressed visually as well as verbally throughout the ages. Graffiti scribbles on a wall, pictures scattered in the street during marches, posters spread through the environment: all have played their part. For such agitational images represent a power struggle; a rebellion against an established order and a call to arms, or a passionate cry of concern for a cause. They signify, in short, an attempt to bring about change, whether driven by the cry of an individual or the heat of the crowd. It is the emotion, aggression or immediacy of this imagery that constitutes a visual power that links into the passions of the viewer.

This book’s history of protest graphics can therefore be joyful as well as brutal. It is largely driven by events, both local and international, but also owes a debt to changes in technology. Consequently it begins in the 16th century with the Reformation (as by that time images could be produced in multiples). It then travels through the decades and centuries, protesting against the miseries of war, satirising the foibles of royalty, politicians, religions and society in general, calling for an end to racial discrimination and apartheid, demanding freedom from tyranny and dictatorships around the world, struggling for LGBTQ+ rights, and finally attending to current 21st-century concerns and Trumpisms.

The content encompasses an astounding breadth of emotion – from hilarious satire to utter horror. It highlights the timeless iconography of protest graphics, such as raised fists, skulls (and skeletons), mushroom clouds and missiles, and revels in the variety of its modus operandi: from posters and postcards to giant inflatables. But over and above all, this book pays tribute to the liberating concept of hard-won ‘freedom of speech’ throughout history, and which still has agency in current times. The power struggles of the past, and their visual communication, have meaning for us now. Such resonances occur, again and again, throughout this entire collection.

When viewing this book, don’t just observe the past.

Feel the present.

p18, French Revolution / caption: The Indivisible Unity of the Republic: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity or Death / c. 1793, Artist unknown, Poster/ credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p20, British Satire / caption: Gin Lane 1750–51, William Hogarth, Etching and engraving / (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p41, Posada / caption: Calavera of the People’s Printer Antonio Vanegas Arroyo date unknown, José Guadalupe Posada, Engraving / (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p43, Votes for Women / caption: Votes for Women c. 1907, Hilda M. Dallas, Poster (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p79, Ban the Bomb/ caption: Gojira (Godzilla) 1954, Artist unknown, Film poster/ credit: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo / (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p105, Civil Rights Movement / caption: Striking Sanitation Department Workers 1968, Photograph / credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p106, Black Power / caption: Libertad Para Angela Davis (Free Angela Davis) 1971, Félix Beltrán, Poster / credit: Library of Congress / (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p119, May 68 Riots / caption: Atelier Populaire, May 1968, Poster: The Struggle Continues / credit: API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p208, War on Terror / caption: NO 2003, David Gentleman for the Stop the War Coalition, Poster (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p229, HK Umbrella Revolution / caption: Umbrella Revolution Solidarity Poster 2014, Raven H. Ma, Electronic (online) poster / (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p240, Black Lives Matter / caption: I Am Trayvon Martin 2013, Artists: Jesus Barraza, Mazatl and Melanie Cervantes, Poster / credit: / (courtesy of Princeton University Press)
p260, Political Satire / caption: Trump Baby 2018, Artists: Leo Murray and colleagues, Inflatable blimp, stickers / credit: Liz McQuiston / (courtesy of Princeton University Press)

Excerpted from PROTEST!: A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics, by Liz McQuiston. Copyright © 2019 by Quarto Publishing plc. Published by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.