Origins of the “Clenched Fist” image

Clenched Fist - Woodblock by Frank Cieciorka, 1965

[ Clenched Fist - Woodblock by Frank Cieciorka, 1965 ]


The militant symbol of the clenched fist has been around since the early 1900’s, springing up in graphics from Mexico and the U.S. to Europe and Russia. Typically depicted as part of the human figure, holding tools or other symbols, or breaking through a barricade; the iconographic fist underwent a change at some point in the 1960’s - it became an abstract graphic element detached from the human figure. Scholars Lincoln Cushing (who runs the Docs Populi archives,) and Michael Rossman (curator for the All Of Us Or None archive of political posters,) have been investigating the use of the clenched fist in U.S. poster images, trying to ascertain exactly when the image first became a stand alone symbol in America’s visual vocabulary. After studying some 20,000 archived posters they’ve come to some interesting conclusions. As best as they can tell, the fist was original conjured up as a detached image by San Francisco Bay artist, Frank Cieciorka. Just returned from Mississippi in 1965 as an activist in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Cieciorka was inspired by the woodcuts of Mexican master, José Guadalupe Posada, and he set out to create his own series of woodcuts - the clenched first being the first and the most popular. You can read more about the clenched fist in art, at Lincoln Cushing’s research page: A brief history of the “Clenched Fist” image.

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