The Art of Protest: An Artists' Collective Puts the Power of Messaging in the Hands of Community Members

By Martinez, Felicia R. | Colorlines Magazine, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview

The Art of Protest: An Artists' Collective Puts the Power of Messaging in the Hands of Community Members


Martinez, Felicia R., Colorlines Magazine


TALIA HERRERA DIDN'T CONSIDER herself an artist when she designed her first protest poster.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

An immigrant from central Mexico, Herrera enjoyed drawing as a pastime but had never worked with materials other than pencil and paper. Looking at her first silk screen, though, one would never know it. The poster's central figure is a woman looking through a chicken wire fence at her child. The text states: "La separation no era el sueno/Separation was not the dream."

Herrera created the poster as part of a workshop designed by the San Francisco Print Collective, a multiracial artist group that formed in 2000 to support anti-gentrification work that teaches about three silk screening workshops for activists every year. Last year, its members created a Spanish-language workshop for community members working on anti-gentrification issues with the groups People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights and St. Peter's Housing Committee.

"We think it's strategic as artists and activists to do our work in partnership with organizations that are doing campaigns, raising community consciousness [and] doing leadership development," said Fernando Marti, one of the collective's members. "We see art-making as part of that work."

This approach to political art is not unprecedented, of course. The collective like to cite the Black Panthers and France's student strikes of 1968 as their models, since those were movements in which artists and organizers forged intentional relationships to benefit the political work at hand.

In San Francisco, the collective continues in this tradition by creating posters for campaigns on gentrification and land usage. Their projects have ranged from banner-making and mural painting to an installation piece that consisted of an interactive community map inviting people to imagine what they wanted to see in their neighborhoods and to place models of those things directly onto the map. The collective is best known for its posters creating support for campaigns, as well as the silk-screening workshops. Marti, himself, first became involved with the collective through one of the workshops.

At a presentation Herrera gave in a Mission District venue where her poster was on display, she explained that when generating ideas for her poster, she reflected on her own children and what it would be like to be separated from them. She had been upset hearing about the ICE raids taking place in communities throughout the Bay Area just weeks before the silk-screening class began.

With a little computer training and some technical support with Adobe Photoshop, Herrera produced a first draft of her image. …

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