The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles will be exhibiting, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, running Oct. 21st, 2007 through Jan. 20th, 2008. The exhibit takes place at the MOCA annex located at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California. Approximately 150 works created by Douglas while he was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party will be on display, with the legendary artist scheduled to attend the special opening reception celebration to be held at the Pacific Design Center on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007, at 6:00 pm. That event is free and open to the public.

Poster by Emory Douglas
“Revolution in our Lifetime.” Emory Douglas 1969 offset lithograph 20 x 14 in. One of the artist’s iconographic images, this drawing appeared as a pull-out poster in the Black Panther newspaper, Nov. 8th, 1969.

While the graphic art of Emory Douglas has been exhibited in many galleries over the decades, it is astounding to me that it is now being showcased in a museum as prestigious as L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, especially considering the political climate in the United States. To be truthful, I’m amazed this exhibit is happening at all. Imagine of you will, posters that advocate violent armed revolution against the US government being on display in an American museum.

In describing the exhibit, MOCA declared; “At a time when political unrest, war protests, and social inequality have again reached a boiling point, but where artistic responses are not as easy to find, the work of Emory Douglas serves as a powerful reminder of the efficacy of visual art to communicate and push forward a political agenda.”

As a teenager in the late 1960’s, I was embroiled in the issues of the day, from the struggle to end the war in Vietnam to the countless attempts at uprooting and eradicating racism in the United States. I was a reader of the Black Panther Party newspaper, and like many other young people across the country, avidly collected the pull-out posters and graphics Douglas published in the paper.

Unfortunately I’ve lost the bulk of that collection – but have fortunately rejected Panther dreams of insurrection. However, the fiery exhortations of those artworks remain forever burned in my memory. Numerous misconceptions are still held regarding the Panthers and their legacy, but to me their ideas were represented in the artworks created by Emory Douglas. The MOCA exhibit offers a glimpse of recent American history that has become effectively buried and put out of mind… but it’s a history we cannot afford to forget.

Poster by Emory Douglas
“Afro-American solidarity with the oppressed People of the world.” Emory Douglas. 1969. This artwork originally appeared in the Black Panther newspaper, but was later reworked by the artist into this poster.

If I had to pick a single image by Douglas that exemplified Panther ideology, it would be the artist’s poster depiction of a young party militant, gun slung over shoulder, peddling a Panther newspaper bearing the headline “All Power To The People.” That militant slogan best summed up the Panther political platform, but the axiom should also be seen as the core principal behind any genuine democracy. Too bad the Panthers came to embrace the Stalinist dictatorships of North Korea, China, and Cuba.

At 3:00 pm on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007, Emory Douglas will discuss with the public, the graphic art he created with the Black Panther Party. All are welcome to this free event. After the talk, Douglas will sign copies of his book, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas. Instead of an official museum catalog, the exhibit will be accompanied by this book, which was published by Rizzoli in Feb. 2007. The book contains essays by Kathleen Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Amiri Baraka, Sam Durrant, and Danny Glover, along with dozens of full color reproductions of artworks and posters created by Douglas that originally appeared in the Black Panther Party newspaper.

MOCA’s Pacific Design Center gallery is located at; 8687 Melrose Avenue, Design Plaza G102, West Hollywood, California. 90069. Admission to the Emory Douglas exhibit is free.

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