Emory Douglas: Criminals Running the Government

Arguably the shortest presentation I’ve been to all day, but arguably the one packed with the most passion.
Emory Douglas is a designer for the Black Panther movement, so his illustrations and posters are anything but controversial.

As an example, one of his illustrations dealt with the subject of African-Americans fighting the very controversial Vietnam War. In this illustration, a pig — a common representation of the U.S. government, or government owned entities — dressed as Uncle Sam, is seen winding up toy soldiers (the African-American soldiers) and sending them off to Vietnam. The next scene is what happens when the African-American soldiers realize that the war they’re engaged in isn’t their war, the United State’s war. You can tell the African-American soldiers are a bit disgruntled, because the scene below it is of the toy soldiers chasing off the pig version of Uncle Sam.

Photo by: Amber Gregory

Emory’s presentation makes it abundantly clear he’s not behind any political party’s agenda. His art’s message is of a progressive thinking, but it transcends both parties, and the government in general. For instance, one of his cover designs, The Black Scholar magazine, was of a donkey and an elephant — symbols of the two major political parties in America — eating from the same trough. The trough, of course, represents a resource, from which both parties are equally interested in, and are equally involved in abusing.

Throughout the years, he’s designed magazine covers, flyers, album covers, mailers, etc, that have centered around political satire, calling out left and right-wing leaders when they’ve strayed from their duties of serving the people, and not their personal interests. Most recently, his work has criticized the Obama administration, for their hypocritical views on peace, and the false idolization inflicted on the general public. One of his designs calls Obama a “Nobel Fraud” — for those of you that don’t know, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize — and justifies that statement by showing an illustration of Obama signing into law a “Kill List” — a list of public enemies the government has set out to eliminate.

Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas

Artist (San Francisco)

Emory Douglas created the visual identity for the Black Panther Party and his iconic images came to symbolize the struggles of the movement. As the Revolutionary Artist and Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the 1980s, Douglas’s work, described as ‘Militant Chic’, featured in most issues of the newspaper The Black Panther. His work was characterized by strong graphic images of young African Americans men, women and children. He used the newspaper’s popularity to spur people to action, portraying the poor with empathy and as being unapologetic and ready to struggle for basic human rights. Douglas continues to create art with social and political concerns art that transcends borders. Selected exhibitions (solo): Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, MOCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, CA, 2007–8 Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, Urbis, Manchester, UK, 2008–9 New Museium of Contemporary Art, New York 2009 ZAPANTERA: EDLO Art Space, San Cristóbal De La Casa, Chiapas Mexico 2012 Vertigo Galeria, Mexico City, October 2013
While his presentation was passionate, and very controversial — most of the subjects he creates art around deal with topics like the privatization of prisons, “criminals running the government” (a tagline he said several times), inequality of America, etc. — it was also informative in regards to design techniques and tools he has used in the past, present, and, most likely, the future. He talked a bit about the guerrilla-style of design he was engaged in; his presentation started off with slides of rub-on type, which is a decal style type that you can rub onto any medium you’re working in; he went on to talk about the importance of pattern sheets, or sheets solely devoted to transferrable patterns; he mentioned the limitations of color, and how being limited to one-color print meant really designing with that color in mind; he tied it all together by describing his work station, which was flat surface area (not a designer’s table of any sort) and any source of light that was available. As far as technique is concerned, the man wants it to be known that he largely works in an analogue setting, both in the past and in the present.

The presentation was short, sweet, and intensely passionate. Whether you agree with his point of view — the representation of government figures as pigs, the catchy sayings (“Health is Wealth”, “Man Made Money, Money Drove Man Mad”), the blatant opposition of the privatization of our prison system — or not, his confidence and humanity are sure to inspire even the most opposing of us.


Text — Peter Berki — PortfolioBlog