Celebrate People’s History

Celebrate People’s History is a publication from Feminist Press written by artist and activist Josh MacPhee. This handsome, well-designed book chronicles MacPhee’s ongoing project of the same name. Since 1998, MacPhee has commissioned and funded over a hundred posters by eighty artists, each of whom was asked to create images of “events, groups, and people throughout history who were inspiring in some way, who moved forward the collective struggle of humanity to create a more equitable and just world.”

Celebrate People’s History was initially self-funded, and now is sustained by the sale of posters on JustSeeds.org. MacPhee’s introduction to the book describes the evolution of the endeavor, taking special pride in the posters’ placement in schools and use in social justice curricula.

Josh MacPhee

Erik Ruin

Janet Attard

This project evolved alongside MacPhee’s work with the Just Seeds collaborative (a Printeresting supporter). While MacPhee describes the collection of artists as “nonsectarian,” contributors are mostly driven by leftist political convictions. Naturally, some posters are more concerned with message-making than with image-making. All the images include some didactic text, and some are more interesting as texts than as aesthetic objects.

But that’s not to imply that any of these pieces are unsuccessful, and the work is formally diverse. Some of the images draw upon the traditional tropes of radical poster design, others share more in common with gigposters than with agitprop. And this diversity is clearly part of the intent; this project references the agitational history of the poster, and also updates that tradition. The majority of these works are strikingly designed, with artists making highly effective color choices driven by economical two-color printing, as in this example:

Aaron Renier

MacPhee’s own prints are well-represented, his tribute to Sacco & Vanzetti is a standout contribution. The dizzying array of work also includes images from Eric Drooker, Alec Icky Dunn, Janet Attard, Art Hazelwood, Swoon, and Chris Stain. This book reflects a distinctive contribution to the longstanding culture of the activist graphic, and has earned a place on your bookshelf.

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Categories: Book Review, Critical Discourse

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