Subvertisements: Using Ads and Logos for Protest” is an upcoming art exhibition that takes advertising, a pervasive element in U.S. consumer culture, and portrays it in a different kind of light. The show was put together using subvertisements from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.
Through popular culture advertising, along with plays on familiar logos and imagery, the posters will present their individual attacks on what organizers say are myriad social injustices.
“CSPG has been established for about ten years,” said Louise M. Lewis, CSUN art gallery director. “They have collected political posters about women’s rights, civil rights from all over the world. These posters support, promote or criticize human rights. We have done seven to eight of their shows and we have premiered almost all of them.”
CSPG works on the perspective that art has the power to influence minds. The organization regularly hosts exhibitions in order to make diverse political statements.
In their upcoming display, CSPG is organizing a “Call for Posters,” in which the group will invite interested artists to donate posters – owned or created – to the organization.
“We call for submission for the exhibition,” said Mary Sutton, program director for CSPG. “It might be posters that people have had for 30 years or an artist might be inspired to create a new one. However, just like any other art exhibition, there are things submitted that might not be displayed.”
The submission window has since ended. Two-thirds or more of the exhibit comes from what the organization already owned. While the majority of the posters are from the U.S., some international submissions include posters from countries such as Spain, Germany and Cuba.
A self-proclaimed fan of political art, Lewis was contacted a couple years ago by CSPG in regard to the organization’s wish to use CSUN Art Galleries as exhibition areas. They wanted to write off a grant that was received from Los Angeles’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
“To apply for a grant, they needed to show that they had a venue,” Lewis said. “We feel honored and privileged that they put us as guarantee for their grant.”
Lewis said people visit the art galleries expecting to see landscape paintings. But the political posters will raise guests’ awareness to the thought-provoking nature of the art. Lewis said she is confident the display will convey the value of art as an effective form of visual communication.
“Art has many uses, from deeply emotional and spiritual to very political,” she said. “This exhibition is about taking an advertisement and using it in a very different way, (it’s a) very different image to make people more politically aware. It is not necessarily a critique of the product. It is about advertising and connecting it to a political issue.”
Carol Wells, founder and executive director of CSPG, said she also believes strongly in the power of art and its ability to influence social change. Using the war in Iraq, racism and apartheid in South Africa as examples, she said art has long been a way for artists to address and provoke the prospect of social change.
“There has never been a movement for social change without art being central to those movements,” she said. “Posters that are political often get dismissed as not art. They are art; powerful art.”
Opposition to the war in Iraq, the international boycotting of Coca-Cola and flawed U.S. prisons are other topics addressed by the exhibition.
“A poster about Iraq looks like an iPod ad,” Sutton said about one of the ads. “iRaq” is a poster with the silhouette of an Abu Ghraib detainee holding what appears to be an MP3 player and earphones in his hands. “People look at it and look again and see that it is not an iPod ad,” she said.
At the bottom of the poster, an outdated statement reads,”10,000 Iraqis killed. 773 US soldiers dead.”
Sutton said the posters appropriate memorable corporate logos or advertising imagery through the daily advertisements. “However, instead of being advertisements, these posters are making statements on social justice,” she said.
Organized by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, the exhibition will be on display from March 19 through April 21 in the CSUN Art Gallery.