Thuistezien 143 — 09.01.2021

Juan Pablo Fajardo
All Power to the People

The Bogota-based collective ‘La Silueta’ creates beautiful and visually unique publications in Spanish. Each of their publications inhabits its own world, exploring a variety of subjects, including indigenous Colombian culture, contemporary Columbian art, Columbian traditional-influenced music and more. Some publications are documentary-minded, others could be described as mixed media works that utilise pop-out pages and visual based story telling. Often, they describe their publications as object books, illustrating the multifaceted nature of their works and the aesthetic care that goes into every detail of their output. Their publications are also the result of careful and in-depth research into the subjects explored to best contextualise the visual information.

From this unique standpoint the collective created the exhibition ‘All Power to the People: Emory Douglas & The Black Panthers’, which was presented at West in 2018. Originally presented in Colombia under the Spanish title ¡Todo el Poder para el pueblo!’, the exhibition was also accompanied by a book by ‘La Silueta’, which presented much of Emory Douglas’s work with the Black Panthers in a way that revitalises his art and pays tribute to his mastery in communicating strong visual imagery in mass produced print media publications in the late 60s and 70s.
As Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, Emory Douglas’s designs came to shape much of the aesthetics of the movement and defined the look of the party’s official newspaper titled ‘The Black Panther’. First published in 1967, the first edition of the newspaper had the headline ‘Why was Denzil Dowell killed?’ and told the story of Denzil Dowel’s death — a black twenty-two-year-old construction worker, who was shot dead by police in North Richmond — and the subsequent acquittal of the police officer that shot him. It is difficult not to see a striking similarity in how #BlackLivesMatter was born in 2013 in response to the death of the Black American 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida and the subsequent acquittal of his shooter, and how the movement came to forefront in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Emory Douglas’s striking images, created with bold lines to best jump out at the viewer when published on mass produced newspapers and posters, had an indelible affect in shaping the visual aesthetic of Black Empowerment in the U.S.A. in the late 60s and 70s. His striking images aimed at highlighting the lives of poor, marginalised and victimised Black Americans however in an iconography emphasising strong and resilient individuals, that were organized, informed, motivated and ready to fight against oppression and police brutality.

In this interview, the show’s curator Juan Pablo Fajardo tells us the story of how he created the exhibition and how a chance encounter led to his collaborating with Emory Douglas for the presentation. He talks about meeting Emory Douglas as well as other members of the now defunct Black Panthers Party, the choice of material presented in the exhibition including accompanying documentarian material that was selected to offer the historical and socio-political context the work was created in. Fajardo talks also of how the story of the Black Panthers affects him as a Colombian, with its history of seemingly never-ending violence, its own complex multi-cultural heritage and intense social inequality, how his father’s communist politics inform how he sees the Black Panthers movement in a Marxist light, as well as how the exhibition taking place in the Huis Huguetan on Lange Voorhout — the then temporary home for West, and a building which had once served as a city palace in the 1810s — bring up questions about how The Netherlands’ colonial past affects questions of social and racial relations in The Netherlands today. The interview culminates in his thoughts on how and to what extent art, design and collective action can shape politics and change the world.

Text: James Alexandropoulos - McEwan