Poster people

James O'Nions reviews Celebrate People’s History: the poster book of resistance and revolution
May 2011

Celebrate People’s History: the poster book of resistance and revolution
Edited by Josh MacPhee
The Feminist Press

From Barcelona in 1936 to Paris in 1968 and the ateliers populaires, revolutionary moments have produced posters that go beyond mere propaganda value and into artistic innovation. But does the revolutionary poster have a role on the streets in the quiet times too? Josh MacPhee, whose Celebrate People’s History (CPH) project has been running since 1998, thinks it does. His purpose, though, is not to exhort or cajole, but to remember and bring to life the deliberately buried history of the struggle of ordinary (and extraordinary) people for dignity, justice and freedom.

In this way, the CPH posters distinguish themselves from the majority of left posters, which either simply advertise an event, or depict a problem that we need to do something about. Furthermore, though CPH posters declare themselves a part of that series, they suggest no other affiliation and concentrate instead on the work of historical exposition.

This book brings together all the posters so far, involving the work of nearly a hundred artists. Each takes a struggle, successful or otherwise, and makes it into an iconic poster. Subjects range from the 1941 Disney animators strike, to the Korean Peasants League, to the original CPH poster celebrating Malcolm X.

Though selling the posters (see www.justseeds.org) has helped pay for the project, these are meant to be flyposted, and pasting them up across various US cities has been integral from the beginning. The streets and their walls are thus reclaimed from ubiquitous advertising, or from simple dereliction, by snapshots from a history of struggle.

Inevitably for an American project, the collection leans towards US subject matter, but in doing so reveals what a fascinating radical history that country has. Anyone receiving this book, and it is an ideal present, is sure to want to find out more about the people, organisations and events featured. If they’re anything like me, they may even be tempted to go out and form a revolutionary poster collective of their own.



James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.


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