If nothing else, our viciously divided nation has been great for innovative posters. But clever images of dissent are not a recent phenomenon in the United States. The ascension of Donald Trump inspired graphic designer Bonnie Siegler to look back through American history. Her visually fascinating new book, Signs of Resistance (Artisan; paperback, $17.95), includes among its earliest examples that famous chopped up snake drawn by Benjamin Franklin in 1754 to warn the colonies: “Join, or die.” “Franklin intuitively understood the principle of designing for impact and persuasion,” Siegler writes. “Use as few words as possible and pair them with a graphic image.” She moves quickly into the 20th century, showcasing haunting protest posters wielded during the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the women’s movement and the fight for greater AIDS funding. The last third of her anthology feels like it was grabbed right from the hands of today’s protesters: One of the most powerful images may be a photo of little children at a Black Lives Matter protest holding signs taped to Popsicle sticks: “Am I Next?” There is bigly wit here, too. A parody of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” image of Barack Obama shows Donald Trump with the word: “Grope.” Other images, many displayed during the Women’s March in 2017, are as funny as they are shocking. “Artists,” Siegler notes, “used the weapons at their disposal to articulate what it feels like to watch a self-professed sexual predator become the most powerful man in the world.”
The editors at Princeton Architectural Press felt impelled by recent crises to help people express their views on immigration, health care, civil rights and the environment. So, they sent out a call for posters. In a month, they received 800 submissions from around the world. The best 50 are presented in a large format book with tear-out pages called Posters for Change (Princeton Architectural Press; paperback, $25). These are images you have not seen before but might soon. “Some,” the editors note, are “refined, even elegant, others crude, formal, playful, or mock-authoritarian.” The anthology includes a fantastic range of styles — from all text to all image to a striking blend of both. One illustration shows a 1950s father sitting in the living room with his two children — under water: “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Climate War?” In an afterword, Avram Finkelstein, a member of the AIDS art collective Gran Fury, writes, “Physical posters in physical spaces have a power that exceeds the evanescence of Internet messaging. The poster comes for you where you live.” Proceeds from the sale of “Posters for Change” will be donated to charity.
Ron Charles is the editor of Book World and host of TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.