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
Quarto Publishing / Princeton University Press
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.