The Social Importance of Protest Artwork in a Consumer Culture

With a Palestinian flag held to its side, a white dove wearing an arabic kufiya casually smokes a cigarette.
Palestinian Dove (2023)
Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers (2015)
From Pop Art to Community Arts in Hackney and beyond (2017)
Check the Label (2023)
Flying with wings raised, a white dove carries a slice of watermelon with its feet.
Flying Colours (2023)

The Social Importance of Protest Artwork in a Consumer Culture

Unlike the commercial illustration seen in a free-market economy, protest artwork does not seek to influence people’s purchasing decisions. Instead it aims to express a specific opinion to its audience. Protest artwork typically opposes policies, entities, or social phenomena. In this non-commercial context, the artwork is disseminated by whatever means are available.

The pairing of illustration with a consumer economy becomes apparent when a society undergoes industrialisation. But of course, citizenship is more than being a consumer. The struggle for civil rights, anti war protests, and legal reform are some of causes that have called for illustrated protest artwork.

A Rallying Cry for a Just Future

Shortly before his passing in 2017, former AOI chairman Paul Bowman wrote ‘Educate Agitate Abdicate’. His manifesto called for a socially engaged illustration practice beyond making artwork for commercial clients.

Commercial work can exist beside work that exposes injustice, questions our lives, and helps understanding. Commercialism and commentary for change are not creatively in opposition. Time must be allocated to develop work and communication questioning injustice.

Paul Bowman (2017)

It bears mentioning that when illustration output is driven by societal objectives, they can capture the spirit of the times. In his position as Minister of Culture for the Black Panther party, Emory Douglas created visuals that now firmly stand within the tradition of protest artwork. His imagery was central within the publication of The Black Panther Community News Service, which sought to identify and dismantle systemic racism. Similarly the liberation artwork by Judy Ann Seidman embodied the people’s struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The cut-up décollage work of Jamie Reid stood in opposition to social nationalism and Thatcherite government policy. The feminist screen-print collective, See Red Women’s Workshop, pushed against sexism in the media, exploitation and inequality. And of course, the murals that appear throughout the world are frequently expressions of dissent.

However protest artwork is made and disseminated, we find it is created to reach people in the spaces where their lives are being lived. Not in galleries, and not, as Paul Bowman wrote, in the “elitist, opulent, academic culture of large areas of fine art practice.”

Posterboy Mixtapes: Sixty Minutes of Instrumental Cuts and Headnod Jazz

Horizontal J-card design for the Posterboy Mixtapes

Posterboy Mixtapes: Sixty Minutes of Instrumental Cuts and Headnod Jazz

While the audio cassette has enjoyed a niche revival, it simply can not recreate the culture that it once engendered. The act of lending, tape swapping, and recording duplicates was standard for countless informal peer groups. Mixtapes were a part of this broader cassette culture, and often enjoyed particular appreciation among enthusiasts. The playback of adjacent tracks gave listeners a way to consume a curated selection outside of demos, eps, and lps. Irrespective of one’s approach, most would likely agree that when either side of a cassette reaches the end, its final track ought to be a neat fit, and not abruptly cut or split.

Being that cassette culture flourished before the internet, the tracklist was not insignificant. For a listener interested in hearing more, knowing the artist and track title might be the only tangible lead. Usually visible through the transparent plastic case, the tracklist was typically written on the j-card. Beyond its practical function, this folded card is where many would attempt to make every cassette recognisable at a glance. Like amateur musicians who recorded live sessions to cassette, mixtapes embodied a DIY ethic, and personalised the sharing of music.

Posterboy Mixtape Spring 2024

J-card design for the Posterboy Mixtape
Posterboy Mixtape Spring 2024 J-card
OhblivSet Your Own Rules00:00
SamiyamKit Kat02:13
Free The RobotsWelcome to Los Angeles03:33
Sparkle DivisionSlappin Yo’ ‘ Face05:52
Yesterdays New QuintetPapa17:48
AmmonContactChord (Parts 1-2)21:17
Four TetParallel25:02
San GendelPure Imagination (Lofi)27:53
DabryeAir (Instrumental)35:51
Badbadnotgood feat. Arthur Verocai (Macroblank Remix)Love Proceeding42:24
Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed MuhammadLet’s Get to Work47:01
Prefuse 73Twin Statues47:57
TeebsAutumn Antique51:03
Karriem RigginsOther Side of the Track52:54
Flying LotusAndromeda55:20

Posterboy Mixtape Autumn 2023

J-card design for the Posterboy Mixtape
Posterboy Mixtape Autumn 2023 J-card
Yesterdays New QuintetLittle Girl (Dakota’s Song)00:00
TeebsEstara (Yellow Bits Redo)02:06
Yussef Dayes feat. Tom MischRust08:13
BadbadnotgoodStepping Through Stars11:58
RobohandsFuture Engineering16:12
Karriem Riggins, Derrick Hodge, James PoyserSuite Outro18:37
Greg FoatSymphonie Pacifique20:11
Flying LotusEnchanted24:39
ShigetoIn Case You Forgot27:46
KieferMiss U30:29
Prefuse 73Love You Bring35:01
Third Coast Percussion, George HurdWhat Stories We Tell (V: Reminiscence)39:39
SamiyamPier 440:33
MadlibAll Love (The Movement)42:12
DabryeFirst Law of Nature Rock Day43:30
Fred FerreiraDistant Land46:45
Sparkle DivisionFor Gato50:18
OddiseeSilver Lining53:01

Posterboy Mixtape Spring 2023

J-card design for the Posterboy Mixtape
Posterboy Mixtape Spring 2023 J-card
DJ MuggsLiquid Diamonds00:00
OhblivRaw Zeta05:42
Rejoicer feat. Sefi ZislingYesterday’s Forest Magic07:33
MedlineLa Planète Sauvage10:56
Prefuse 73Vikings Invade the Mediterranean But Don’t Leave15:50
Jahari Massamba UnitHommage À La Vielle Garde (Pour Lafarge Et Rinaldi)16:47
Stimulator JonesLa Mano21:22
Free The RobotsKaduwa25:43
Hidden OrchestraFirst Light (Nostalgia 77 Remix)28:29
AmmoncontactGood Life to Groove Merchant31:41
Karriem RigginsCia35:35
ShigetoField Day41:50
Flying LotusBlack Balloons Reprise (Instrumental)45:40
MadlibGat Damn (Instrumental)48:15
Perched on the number 23, a lapwing bird holds a compact cassette tape in its beak.
Posterboy Mixtape 2023