Lesson: Emory Douglas: Here and Now: Looking at Contemporary Artists Continuing the Struggle

  • Grade Level: High School (9 - 12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Graphic Design, Art, Literature, Global Studies, History
  • Poster (Angola 3), 2008.Poster (Angola 3), 2008.
  • Ruth Ewan, A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World, 2009Ruth Ewan, A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World, 2009
  • "Hacer es la Mejor Manera de Decir (To Do Is the Best Way to Say)," 2004."Hacer es la Mejor Manera de Decir (To Do Is the Best Way to Say)," 2004.
  • "...For People Who Refuse to Knuckle Down," 2004."...For People Who Refuse to Knuckle Down," 2004.
  • Angola 3, 2009.Angola 3, 2009.
  • Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.
  • Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.
  • Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.
  • Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.Installation detail of "The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes," 2009.

Introduction:

Written by Cathleen Lewis, Manager of High School Programs

“Emory Douglas: Black Panther” is a survey of the graphic designer Emory Douglas’s work from the time he was the Minister of Culture and the designer for the Black Panther, a weekly newspaper that served as the voice of the Panther movement from its inception in 1967. Douglas was a founding member until the Party’s demise in the late 1970s.
 
This is a show about Douglas, and his unique graphic vocabulary. But Douglas’s body of work, taken as a whole, also gives a visual history of the Black Panther Party. Douglas joined the Party after founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. He is responsible for the now-famous emblems of the crouching panther, and the pig, which after 1968 entered the general vocabulary as a stand-in for the police. Douglas’s posters, handbills, and general design for a newspaper—whose circulation in the US was once estimated to be 400,000—also featured the ennobled photographs of the party’s heroes. It also charted its development from an organization fixated on self-defense against police brutality, to a more complicated organization that not only ran crucial social programs in US ghettos, but became, in coalition with other liberal organizations, a participant in government at the local and the national level.

This lesson is part of the Emory Douglas curriculum that utilizes the artist's work from the period that he was the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture and the designer for the Black Panther, the Party’s weekly newspaper. Douglas’s unique graphic vocabulary mixes influences from classic activist artists of the 1930s and ’40s. Selected by the Los Angeles artist Sam Durant, whose work often deals with political and cultural subjects in American history, the exhibition includes more than 165 posters, newspapers, and prints dating from 1967 to 1976.

Suggested Procedures:

  1. Look at Ruth Ewan’s A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World, 2009, and provide students with the list of songs available here (hyperlink). Ask students:

    • Identify the object.
    • What time period is it from?
    • Does anyone recognize any of these songs?
    • Do the titles or the singers give you any clue as to what these songs are about?
    • What about the title of this piece? Does this give you any hints?
    • What time period are these songs from?

  2. Tell students this is a jukebox, with political protest songs, from different times, and by different artists and compiled by the visual artist Ruth Ewan. Ask them:

    • What is protest music?
    • What are the conditions that create it?
    • Are there songs that fire you up or inspire you to act?
    • Where do you usually see jukeboxes? Is there a present-day equivalent?
    • How does the artist’s compilation transform an everyday object?
    • Why do you think that Ewan has compiled all these songs and put them into a jukebox? Why not an iPod?
    • Does Ewan’s choice add a sense of nostalgia? Why or how?
    • Why do you think Ewan made this choice?

  3. Tell students that jukeboxes are machines for playing music in public places. Usually, for a small fee, any person can select a series of songs that will be played for the whole room. You get to be the DJ. In this case, since 2003, the artist Ruth Ewan has compiled over 600 songs—and she is still collecting! The big difference with this jukebox is its theme, rather than Top 40 or Country and Western, Ruth Ewan has collected songs written by and for people who want to see change for social good. The title of the piece is A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World. Ask students:

    • What does the title of the work suggest?
    • The piece is interactive, and only works if people engage with it. How does this engagement relate to the title?
    • Ask students to examine the categories that Ewan created. Are her choices democratic? Why, or why not?

  4.  Look at Sam Durant’s, Hacer es la Mejor Manera de Decir, 2004 and have students describe the work.

    • What meaning emerges when these objects are gathered in the same context? What might these objects be used for?
    • If you were to imagine people in this scenerio what might be happening?
    • The banner proclaims Debajo del pavimento, la playa, which translates as below the pavement, the beach. Does the banner add meaning to our understanding of the work? How? What does this mean?
    • The title of this artwork is Hacer es la Mejor Manera de Decir, what does it mean? (The title translates as To Do is the Best Way to Say)
    • What is the difference between doing and saying? How does this compare to Ewan’s work?
    • In this work, Durant creates a mobile of all the necessary objects for a street protest. This artwork references the student protests in 1968 across the world including France, Germany, and Mexico.
    • For more information on the 1968 student uprising in Mexico see “Investigating Neighborhood: Tlatelolco and the localized negotiation of future imaginaries”.
    • Why would an artist reference the past to have a conversation about the present? Where else have you seen artists reference the past? In what images has Douglas referred to the past? What histories did he reference?
    •  What does this suggest about struggles and rights?

  5. Look at Sam Durant’s, …For People Who Refuse to Knuckle Down, 2004, and have students describe the objects and materials.

    • What objects do you see in this work?
    • Where are some places that you might see a chain-link fence? What are fences designed to do?
    • What do you think the artist means by including the sign “Obedience to the Law is Freedom”?
    • Who and what do you think he is talking to/about? Who is caged and who is free? How do we know?
    • How does the complete title (…For People Who Refuse to Knuckle Down) influence the reading of this work?
    • Transforming activist gestures into sculptural objects (and vice versa), Durant has extensively explored the notion of protest both as a subject and as material for visual art.
    • Have students list some moments of protest or civil disobedience that might have happened during our time. Make connections to protests and acts of civil disobedience during the 1960s. (Teachers may also want to draw connections to the different movements of the ’60s including Civil Rights, the Stonewall Riots, and, opposition to the Vietnam War.)

  6. Have students look at Rigo 23’s The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes, 2009, and write an “immediate reaction” paper answering the following questions:

    • What do you think this space would be used for? Who would use it?
    • What mood is being created? How does the title contribute to this mood?
    • How does Rigo 23 use the architecture of the space? How has he altered the space?
    • If you had an opportunity walk through the installation, what challenges do you think you would face?
    • Could you imagine being in solitary confinement for nearly thirty-six years in six-by-nine-foot cell?
    • The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes, is intended to provide a sensory experience, highlighting the confinement of a kind of “non-space” in the museum and challenging visitors with views that mimic those confronting over two million prisoners in the United States, home to the world’s largest penal system.

  7. Introduce students to the Angola 3. Have them navigate through the site. Tell students that The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes was inspired by the words of Herman Wallace, a member of the Angola 3. Have students read Rigo 23’s biography (hyperlink). Looking back at the work, ask students:

    • What about this history do you think compelled Rigo 23 to make this work?
    • Is the installation specific to the Angola 3 or can it be extended to include other political prisoners? In what ways?
    • What struggle is Rigo 23 highlighting in this installation?
    • Referring to Douglas’s usage of signs and symbols, how is Rigo 23’s practice similar? What is universally understood?

  8. The History of Angola Prison:

    • The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola occupies 18,000 acres of the prime farm land that was once a nineteenth-century plantation—the Angola Plantation—named after the area in Africa that supplied most of the plantation's slave labor. Nicknamed “the Farm,” it is a working agricultural complex that utilizes cheap prisoner labor (wages range between four and twenty cents per hour) for traditional agriculture production and light industry.
    • Ask students to research the prison industrial complex.  Click here for research materials.
    • After the research ask students to read the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution:
    • “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United Sates, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
    • Ask students to discuss the location of the prison and its history
    • Does the fact that the prison is on a former slave plantation add meaning?
    • Are the inmates on Angola Plantation treated as slaves as written in the Thirteenth Amendment?

  9. Look at Angola—3, Rigo23

    • What metaphor does Rigo 23 use to represent Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King?
    • How does he represent freedom for Robert King?
    • How many more men are illegally held in solitary confinement?
    • Robert King’s conviction was overturned in 2001; but Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox remain in isolation. King continues to work tirelessly for their release, sharing his experiences at universities, schools, museums, and community centers internationally, and through his recently published autobiography.

  10. Look at Free All The Angola 3, 2008, Emory Douglas

    • Ask students to interpret the image.
    • What object does Douglas use to connect the prisoners of Angola to slavery?
    • What image does he use to give the viewer the sense of confinement?
    • How does the text relate to the image?
    • How does Douglas use the Thirteenth Amendment to inspire the creation of this image?
    • Emory Douglas created this poster to help support the Angola 3, and to protest the illegal confinement of the Angola 3.

  11. Have students write a paper in response to the works of Durant, Ewan, and Rigo 23 in relationship with Emory Douglas. Select one image discussed in this lesson, and compare and contrast it with an image of Douglas’s from the digital archive. In their paper students should make deductions about the techniques, styles, resources, messages, and audiences the works address. Students will be assessed on their recognition of artistic choices and their interpretations of why these artists are making those choices. Students should include supporting references for their conclusions.

  12. Inspired by Ewan, have students make a list of protest songs on their iPods, then have them juxtapose their song or songs with images of Douglas’s works. Ask students:

    • How do the visuals inform what we hear?
    • How do the words inform the visuals?
    • What does this suggest about juxtaposing the historical with the contemporary?

Conclusion:

  • In this discussion, artists have addressed such issues as activism, resistance, civil disobedience, political prisoners, and war. What issues in contemporary culture do you think might incite you to take action?
  • Not everyone is a politician, but art can be a powerful tool to highlight injustice inequality around the world. Do you think this is an effective tool discuss important issues? Why?