Still from 'Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers' (all screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic)

Still from ‘Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers’ (all screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic)

“Art has relevancy, whether it’s to exploit you or pacify you, or to enlighten and inform you. It’s a language, that’s the power of it,” Emory Douglas, the artist who drove the graphic identity of the Black Panthers, says in a new short documentary. In just under eight minutes, Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers follows the 1966 rise of the black political group to its 1980s decline in the context of the newspaper and poster work by Douglas.

Still from 'Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers'

Still from ‘Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers’ (click to enlarge)

The Art of the Black Panthers was created by the New York–based production group Dress Code for design association AIGA, which this year recognized Douglas with the AIGA Medal. Cutting together archival footage with an interview from the San Francisco–based artist’s studio, the documentary follows Douglas from his beginnings with screenprinting in juvenile detention (he explains that he was arrested for the first time at the age of 13 for joining in a dice game), to his study of advertising at a time when the industry was almost completely white, to his appointment as Minister of Culture in the Black Panther Party.

He emphasizes how the Black Panthers were a youth organization that started “wanting to change things,” and the newspaper was a way “to tell our story from our own perspective.” The segregation in the Bay Area and across the United States, the brutal police attacks on civil rights demonstrations, and the social concerns and programs that often go overlooked in the history of the group were illustrated in heavy lines that Douglas sketched with marker and pen in the style of woodcuts. Cut out with x-acto knives and pasted together, the newspapers started rough, but had a passion behind them that bristled in the art.

“Today the actual organization doesn’t exist, but it left a blueprint for people to be inspired by,” Douglas says.

Watch Emory Douglas: The Art of The Black Panthers from Dress Code on Vimeo.

h/t Boing Boing

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...

2 replies on “Designing a Revolutionary Visual Identity for the Black Panthers”

  1. If you want to be technical, “Art has relevancy” is not passive. Perhaps you would have preferred, “Art has relevance”? What about “Relevant is art” since you chose the reflexive…

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