Thuistezien 65 — 26.05.2020

Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas (1943) is an American artist who’s known as the former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party (BPP). His revolutionary drawings have characterised the movement and contributed to its enormous impact even far beyond the United States. In times of growing resistance, such as the Civil Rights Movement and protests against the Vietnam war, the BPP emerged in the late 1960s from of a stronger sense of injustice within the black communities. Their struggle was much broader though, as they committed themselves to the entire community by serving free breakfast, providing health care, distributing clothes and starting schooling programs. The movement was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale —‘two high intellectuals’ as Douglas describes them — as they were inspired by the ideas of Malcolm X. The symbolism of the black panther is very suiting: the panther is an animal that wouldn’t attack anyone, unless it needs to protect itself.

Once he came into contact with the movement and with Eldridge Cleaver, who was responsible for the news department, Douglas quickly became convinced that he wanted to his part. Soon he was appointed Minister of Culture and started helping with the spreading of the movement’s ideas. Not only his distinctive drawing style, characterised by the use of thick black lines, but also the sharp-witted and socially critical slogans were appealing. People could identify in the BPP’s message and supported the struggle for equality, rights and self-determination. Douglas’ work can be seen as a perfect example of the power of art and how to reach broad layers of society through it. He describes his art as a weapon to fight with and to give a voice to the voiceless. With his drawings, illustrations and graphic designs he made the BPP recognisable, which in turn created an enormous support.

During the interview he recounts numerous impressive stories from the times of the movement, how they had a reach of no less than 400,000 newspapers a week in their heydays. About the many clashes with authorities and the various attempts to silence them, and how he still continuous to spread his graphic work to this day.
Behind the charismatic laugh and soothing voice lies a richly-filled life experience and combativeness that still manages to kindle the fire in people. While the movement no longer exists, he remains active and considers his work far from finished. “We’ve left behind a blueprint that’s still inspiring people.” His work remains relevant up until today and is recognised, spread and adopted all around the world. This interview was conducted on the occasion of the exhibition ‘All Power to the People’, which was on display at West in 2018.