One of my favorite programs is SPARK, a Public Television station that profiles artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. A few weeks ago, SPARK showcased the political posters of Favianna Rodriguez. Rodriquez makes posters and graphics that support social movements and grassroots activism, much in the same way that past political artists like Honore Daumier, Jose Guadalupe Posada and Kathe Kolliwitz created graphic works that commented on the ills of society.
Favianna first learned about silk-screening in her teens when she took free art classes offered in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California. Rodriquez was deeply influenced by the Chicano arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and with her collaborator, Jesus Barraza, Rodriguez has designed posters to raise awareness on issues ranging like genetically modified foods, day laborers in the U.S., mothers of disappeared women in Juárez, Mexico, immigration rights and globalization. She helped found the EastSide Arts Alliance, an organization that supports Oakland neighborhoods through arts programs and trains young artists in the tradition of muralism.. In 2003, Rodriquez co-founded the Taller Tupac Amaru printing studio to foster resurgence in the screenprinting medium.
In Rodriquez artist statement in her website, she writes:
“Now more than ever, our protest culture is being coopted by the mainstream. Counter-culture is in style! But the requirement of study, political debate and practice is absent. We the artists of the people have a responsibility to expose our truths so that we don’t become maintainers of this corrupt sytem. In this age of extreme capitalism, we are surrounded by corporate media that influence our decisions about everything we wear, everything we eat, and everything we buy. We are constantly fed messages to be consumers. I am not in the business of crass commercial advertisement. I am in the business of education and liberation. My subjects are Black, Latino, Asian and Native communities that have been ignored and smashed by this government.
It is in this spirit that I has created artwork: to translate the messages of the frontlines into works of art that can be used to educate and mobilize. I am part of a long tradition of political artists who have used their art to dismantle and expose this fascistic culture. I send a shot out to Rini Templeton, Malaquias Montoya, Victor Jara, Emory Douglas, Paul Robenson, Juan Fuentes, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Ester Hernandez, Rene Mederos, and Rupert Garcia political artists that inspired and informed my work and set the stage for political graphics in the 20th century. ”
Favianna Rodriquez is collaborating right now with renowned stencil artist Josh MacPhee on the book Reproduce and Revolt which has more than 600 black and white illustrations for royalty free use in noncommercial activist purposes.
Before I watched this particular SPARK episode, I had never heard of Favianna Rodriquez. I loved her posters and admired the social conscience behind her works of art. As her artist’s statement attests, Rodriquez is working in a long tradition of political artwork. In the nineteenth century in Mexico, Jose Guadalupe Posada was making etchings and engravings for the newspaper El Jicote and prints about the songs, fables, ballads and social commentary about Mexican society. Posada’s most famous prints were his Calaveras (spanish for skeletons), which he used to depict the follies of human nature. These images were used to satirize the upper classes of the Porfirio Diaz era in Mexico.
Honore Daumier was French printmaker and caricaturist who created many prints that satirized the French middle class and government in the 19th century. Daumier worked in journals like La Caritcature and Le Charivari, where he made fun of the French bourgeoisie, the corruption of lawyers, and the incompetence of the French monarchy. His caricature of the king in his cartoon Gargantua led to Daumier’s imprisonment for six months at Ste Pelagic in 1832.
Kathe Kollwitz was famed German printmaker of the early twentieth century who created works that told of the suffering of the less fortunate members of society. Her drawings, lithographs, etchings and woodcuts depicted the plight of those trapped in poverty, extolled the fight of workers to be treated more equitably, and attacked the concept of war. Kollwitz’s husband was a doctor who tended to the poor, and this greatly influenced her political views. The death of her youngest son in the battlefields of World War I made Kollwitz a fervent pacifist, and she made a series of political posters in the 1920s that decried war and poverty. In the 1930s, Kollwitz was replaced from the faculty of a major art institution and her work was banned by the Nazis. Her fame, though, helped protect Kollwitz from too much harassment from the Nazi authorities, although she and her husband were threatened by the Gestapo in 1936.
The graphic artword of Rodriquez, Posada, Daumier and Kollwitz shows that art can have a positive influence upon the attitudes of people and it can move some viewers to take a more active role in correcting some of the flaws in our society. These posters take stands on important issues of our time, and they argue with passion and intelligence for people to be engaged in the problems of our community. For that, I think Favianna Rodriquez should be commended. To see more of Favianna Rodriquez’s work you could go here.