As we enter the final stretch of pre-election frenzy, we are truly in a fight for the soul of this nation. With their current show, “State of Urgency” at Brown University’s Cohen Gallery, the Print Like You Give A Damn Press Collective has charged the front lines, armed with the power of words.
The Collective includes Kate Aitchison, Allison Bianco, Jaques Bidon, Julia Brough, Ian Cozzens, Ryan Dean, Tati Gómez Gaggero, Lara Henderson, Sara Inacio, Erin Lobb, José Menendez and Nafis M. White, and the show is a series of posters, created during the summer of 2020, that serve as a wake-up call: With November 3 fast approaching, justice is on the line – and the choices that we make matter.
“Historically, print shops come alive when there is unrest,” said Nafis White, former community membership manager at the AS220 print shop. This interdisciplinary, multi-skilled artist was the gathering force behind the Collective, and she has been key in getting their work into the hands of people at protest marches, the windows of small businesses, and into gallery spaces such as this one at Brown. The aim is to create an archive and time capsule of the events of this moment.
“The work we’ve created speaks to issues that will be there no matter what happens,” White said. And she raises a good point. We have all heard the words on these posters before: “Nobody’s free until everyone’s free” … “Black Lives Matter” … yet the injustice continues. Why? How?
One answer may be in the words of Ida B. Wells: “Those who commit the murders write the reports.” Jacques Bidon’s poster of Ida White portrays a woman with a quiet, calm strength. Bidon, who was the master printer at AS220’s print shop for more than a decade, is the son of a writer who owned his own print shop in Haiti. He saw his father and uncle censored for speaking out. What does he hope for from this exhibit? “Dialogue,” said Bidon. “People are afraid of speaking the truth.”
He has heard too many politicians talk about the middle class during campaigns, never mentioning those who live below the poverty line. “No one is looking out for the poor people,” he told us. In his posters, Bidon gets to the point: “You can say it in three lines,” he said. ”You don’t need to tell the whole story.”
Pandemic restrictions turned what would have been a quiet gallery show into a window of public art. José R. Menéndez sees it as the perfect venue for the collection. “The story of the posters is not in the museums, it is in the streets,” he said. Menéndez and Tati Gómez Gaggero are both graphic designers, a couple and often a creative team within the group. Together, they designed many of the key features of the exhibition space at Brown. Their work consistently incorporates Spanish and English; the social and political issues in their work are personal. Gaggero, who was a professor in Philadelphia, has not been able to work since May. The pandemic shut down her job and her work visa; her professional life is on hold until her green card comes through.
The Collective went through intense times to turn this show out after the AS220 print shop closed due to COVID, and although the artists from the Collective have since dispersed, they have left an indelible mark in passing.
The best time to view this show is at night – during the day, the sun and sky reflect, throwing a veil of ghosts across the glass. But at night, the posters are illuminated, the words and faces bathed in overhead light. The display is reminiscent of NYC walkways, where flyers for clubs and causes have become a sort of pedestrian wallpaper, a blurred backdrop of repeating faces and words. At Brown, where viewers can stand quietly and take their time, the meaning of the images begins to set in. These are not empty slogans. The struggle is real.
And this year, whether you mail it in, or show up at the polls – vote like you give a damn.
“State of Urgency” is at Brown University through Dec 15, 2020, at the Cohen Gallery, located in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, 154 Angell Street. During fall 2020, Cohen Gallery is available to visitors to view through the west facing windows. Visit arts.brown.edu/events-exhibitions/view/cohen-gallery for close-ups and credits.