Apr 12

Migrant Justice Political Graphics

Migrant Justice Political Graphics: No One Is Illegal – Toronto (2003-2009)

I just finished making a batch of these booklets. When I originally designed this back in 2010, I didn’t have the resources to get it printed, so it’s nice to see this through, even though it’s been a while (and I wonder if I would have done this differently now).

I haven’t updated the content, but I did design a new cover and I included the design as a mini-poster centrefold that you can take out (fun!). One thing I learned from this process is that if you’re going to make a booklet, make sure the page count is a multiple of 4! Also, not all staples are created equal, something to keep in mind when you’re stapling through multiple pages.

Fittingly, the multi-lingual cover image was inspired by – or maybe more accurately, lifted from – the banner at the bottom of page 24, so it’s nice to have them together here.

You can download a copy of the booklet here (select the booklet printing option to get it to print correctly). And check out the digital archive on Flickr here.

Mar 12


I wanted to share an array of images that I’ve gathered which use the fist & barbed wire as a symbol. For a change, I decided to try making an animated GIF. It was actually pretty easy, so look forward to more animations in the future.

  • #1 Julius Fuchik (book author), Notes From the Gallows (1948) via Justseeds
  • #2 Unknown Artist, Nikdy! (1961) via 4000 Communist Posters Torrent
  • #3 Kearny Street Workshop, Benefit Olga Talamante (~1975) via Kearny Street Workshop Archives
  • #4 One Year of Military Dictatorship (1977) by Malaquías Montoya in Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California (2001)
  • #5 The Struggle Continues via Howard Besser’s T-Shirt Database
  • #6 Unknown Artist (~1943) via 4000 Communist Posters Torrent
  • #7 Naji al-Ali’s Handala
  • #8 Solidarity Across Borders, Montreal
  • #9 No Borders South Wales website banner
  • #10 No Borders Camp
  • #11 www.noborders.cz sticker, in Prague
  • #12  www.nooneisillegal.org sticker, in Toronto
  • #13 No One Is Illegal flag at Zapatista encuentro 2007, via No One Is Illegal – Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories
  • #14 No One Is Illegal – Toronto banner
  • #15 No One Is Illegal – Toronto patch

From Olivier Razac’s Barbed Wire: A Political History (2002)


Jan 12

I <3 Palestine

Top: “Free Palestine” (~2001, San Francisco); Left: “Nakba 60″ (2008) by Jesus Barraza; Right: “A Woman’s Place Is In Her Students’ Union” (~2005) by the Canadian Federation of Students

One of my go-to tools for online image research is TinEye Reverse Image Search. When you upload an image or provide a link, TinEye scours the web for every instance of the image in use. To some degree, it is able to detect similar versions of an image that may have been modified. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much help tracking down the original source of the photograph at the top of this post. The image was all over the place but seemingly never referenced.

At this point I turned to Oakland-based artist-activist Jesus Barraza from Dignidad Rebelde for help. Jesus used the image in his poster to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba in 2008. Although he didn’t know the answer, Jesus was also curious and generously offered to post my ask on his Facebook. Amazingly, when DR’s Melanie Cervantes shared the ask on her page, the women in the image were identified by a cousin less than 20 minutes later.

The story of this image, or rather the search for this image, is an interesting illustration of two faces of online culture: one, how ubiquity can deepen anonymity by reproducing an image out of context hundreds if not thousands of times; and two, how the much-hyped connectivity of social networks can help crowdsource research (and put anonymity on an endangered species list). Context is not static, it is actively given and taken away.

An important aspect of Jesus and Melanie’s art is how their work comes full circle by honouring the original context of their sources. In their own words, “we create work that translates people’s stories into art that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it.” The outcome of this process is often quite powerful. As a testimonial to this effect, one commenter on the crowdsourcing note wrote:

I remember telling you & Jesus, how moved I was when I first saw the graphic image of this treasured picture. It means the world. I keep both images in my heart. Thank you.

For me and so many others who encounter their work, this is the type of design that offers a definitive answer to the question “Can design touch someone’s heart?”

The Woman’s Place poster (right image, based on “A Woman’s Place Is In Her Union” with Rosie the Riveter) also has a place in my heart. I think it is one of the first political posters that I was exposed to. I remember it hanging up in the office of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, a group I started organizing with while in high school. But after finding the original image, it’s taken on a new meaning.

Comparing the two images, you can see that all of the visual references to Palestine have been filtered out. Keffiyehs are made into plain (but still “ethnic”) scarves. Gone are the Palestinian flags and even the face-painted Arabic letters that spell out “Palestine”. The image, and by extension the organization producing it, is supposed to be anti-racist because it prominently features women of colour, yet it erases the anti-racist & anti-imperialist issue they were organizing around.

Turning an image with a such a specific context into a sanitized generic representation is a dramatic departure from the spirit of their participation and the feminist anti-racist message the poster intends to convey.

But I also want to locate myself in this critique. I remember a time when I was designing a migrant justice demo poster and used a photo of some people I knew marching in a contingent. I was looking at photos from the previous year’s demo and picked this particular image because I liked it the best. I’d like to say that I didn’t alter their messaging, but I did crop the image, and make it black-and-white to fit within the scheme of the poster (which was certainly more about the general messaging of the demo rather than their specific contingent’s messaging within it).

Knowing the people in the image, I should have asked for their permission. It’s one thing to participate in a public demonstration and another thing to have your faces featured on thousands of copies of a poster across the city. And politically, it’s one thing to organize a contingent where you put forward and control your own chants and messaging and another thing to have someone else re-interpret your participation – your essence – for a new purpose, even if closely related.

Getting consent is obviously difficult if you don’t take a photo yourself or know the people within it. And I’m an advocate for remixing culture, for creatively re-using and re-interpreting the material from our visual environment, but that doesn’t mean that ethical considerations are thrown out the window. Remixing an image is a political act, not necessarily a progressive one. If anything, this post is a helpful reminder for me about the need to be more attentive to these issues.

In & Out: “Students Against Racism”, Canadian Federation of Students; “QuAIA Deputation” (2011), Queers Against Israeli Apartheid

Dec 11

Graphic Influences IV

The Art of Rini Templeton (1989); Prepárate! (2011) by Favianna Rodriguez

Reproduce & Revolt (2008), edited by Favianna Rodriguez and Josh MacPhee

For 20 years, Rini Templeton travelled across the US, Mexico and Central America producing drawings for people in struggle. Her easily reproducible “xerox art” has inspired a new generation of artists to continue working in this tradition. Josh MacPhee and Favianna Rodriguez published Reproduce & Revolt in 2008, an open source collection of over 500 political graphics.

Fittingly, R&R features one of Rini’s graphics on its cover and emulates the wide format and bilingual content of The Art of Rini Templeton. Moreover, the always amazing Favianna was instrumental in creating RiniArt.org, an online archive of Rini’s work.

Now, we just need to get the R&R collection online, and how about a second edition? Both books are great hands-on resources for stimulating creativity in workshops and in your own design work. Rini’s book is getting a little harder to find, but if you’re willing to go used, you can get a copy of R&R for ridiculously cheap prices.

Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? (1989) Guerilla Girls; Take Back the Dyke (2010)

Silence=Death (1987), Silence=Death Project; sTOnewall (2011)

Pride is a Pyramid Scheme (2010) quilt by Allyson Mitchell et al @ sTOnewall 2011, photo via Xtra

Speaking of reproducing & revolting, check out these graphics from radical queer organizing in Toronto. The posters for Take Back the Dyke and sTOnewall draw on the aesthetic of classic images produced by the Guerilla Girls and Silence=Death Project.

They are also are connected politically because both events were organized with the intention of reigniting the political spirit of the Pride Parade by reconnecting Pride with its historical roots. A great resource on this is Gary Kinsman’s work on the social organization of forgetting and the resistance of remembering.

And these posters were put up everywhere. You know folks have done a good job when you see traces or even complete wheatpasted posters over a year later.

Pyramid of Capitalist System (1911) issued by Nedeljkovich, Brashick and Kuharich, Cleveland; Capitalism is a Pyramid Scheme (2011) Crimethinc with Packard Jennings

“Overthrow Capitalism” in HAVOQ’s Limp Fists, Raised Fists Calendar (2011)

If pride is pyramid scheme, capitalism is the original pyramid scheme. The classic image published in the Industrial Worker, newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), was recently updated by Crimethinc with the help of Packard Jennings to coincide with the launch of their new book Work (2011).

HAVOQ, the Horizontal Alliance of Very (or Voraciously or Vaguely) Organized Queers, also played on this image in their awesomely intersectional fundraising calendar for their Undoing Borders tour, which stopped in Toronto in September.

For me, the strength of the original image is in making power relations visible and immediately recognizable: We Rule You, We Fool You, We Shoot At You, We Eat For You, We Feed All / We Work For All. With their poster, Crimethinc adds new layers of complexity and offers their book Work as a “376-page decoder ring” to modern capitalist society. Reproducing the original alongside staged photos, HAVOQ captures the spirit of the 1911 pyramid while offering their own sense of radical queer haymaking.

Visit Palestine (1936) by Franz Kraus; Visit Palestine (2010) by Meera Sethi

Add it up, now break it down. From an article on the original Visit Palestine poster by by Dan Walsh of the Palestine Poster Project:

“With this one poster pulled out of the Zionist attic, three core myths are debunked. The first myth is that Palestine had ever been a land without people. Obviously someone lived in these houses and someone tended these gardens. The second myth is that Palestine was a vast desert awaiting cultivation. The resplendent tree in the foreground suggests that the land surrounding Jerusalem was much more than barren desert. The third myth is that there never was a Palestine. Of course there was a Palestine, and here it is, called by name in a Zionist-published poster.”

War Is Over! (1969) via Toronto Telegram Archives; Peace Is Here (~1970) by Toronto Rochdale Peace Centre via Rochdale College Facebook group; We Want It! (~1970) by Rochdale Free Clinic via Rochdale College 341 Bloor St W Facebook group

The final stop on this meandering journey is Rochdale College. I recently stumbled upon a treasure chest of photos shared by former residents on Facebook groups created for alumni.

One thing that struck me about these images, aside from clearly being influenced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s War Is Over!, is how they represent innovative social institutions that operated within Rochdale. The Rochdale Free Clinic started what became the Hassle Free Clinic, which still operates today.

Via Rochdale College on Wikipedia: “Rochdale participants were involved with various cultural institutions in Toronto such as Coach House PressTheatre Passe MurailleThe Toronto Free Dance Theatre, This Magazine is About Schools (now This Magazine), the Spaced-out Library (now the Merril Collection of the Toronto Public Library) and House of Anansi Press.”

I think this is an important dimension of the history of Rochdale that often gets overlooked. Fortunately we now have these posters to help make that history visible again.

Nov 11

Graphic Influences III

Left image ¡Romero presente! (1991) by Juan Fuentes in Russ Davidson’s Latin American Posters (2006); center and right National Domestic Workers Congress (2009) and EZLN Women’s Revolutionary Laws (2007) by Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza

The Long Retreat Is Over (2001) by OCAP & We Also Know How to Cut (2011) by Unknown (taken by Craig while in Quebec City)

Silence=Death (1987) by Silence=Death Project  & Harper=Death (2010) by Aids Action Now!

Aids Action Now! Poster/virus project on the streets; General Idea’s IMAGEVIRUS (1989)

 The Creator is Watching You Harper! (2011) by Kent Monkman, AAN! Poster/virus project

I love doing this series on graphic influences. Without taking anything away from the artists, who are all amazing and huge inspirations to me personally, one of the reasons that I like doing this research is that it helps demystify design.

Great designs aren’t just produced by bursts of creative genius. They come out of a social context. They are historically rooted. Great designers are influenced by great designs & social struggles.

Right now I’m helping my friend Natalia organize an 8 part workshop series called Radical Design School. We are working from the premise that “we are all designers”. Given support, anyone can be a designer for social movements. Sure, there are technical ideas about design but we all also all hold a huge wealth of implicit knowledge.

It’s going to be a lot of fun, especially because Nat is formally trained as a designer and I’m self-taught. One of the things I’m interested in exploring is applying the “Everything is a Remix” concept to design – looking at how our designs are products of copying, combining and transforming existing material from our visual environment.

For example, some folks in Quebec borrowed OCAP’s guillotine (who can blame them?). And maybe they were borrowing more than that, maybe they were also using the visual archive to link their struggle with OCAP’s history or aura of militancy. But in their “remix”, substituting Premier Charest for Harris, the comrades in Quebec also added a great slogan that I’m tempted to borrow in this age of austerity and cutbacks: “We Also Know How to Cut”.

In their exciting Poster/virus project, Aids Action Now! writes that they are “intentionally evoking the history of creative responses to HIV … to provoke discussion, controversy and dialogue in a way traditional activism cannot.” Awesome! Be sure to check out the posters and, if you can make it, the launch event on November 30.


Aug 11

Freedom of Movement

Hello internet! Check out these two new graphics made with help from my friends Sheila, Samay, Hannah, Ed and Faraz. Oh and from my mom as well :)

Originally the idea was for these images to be on the front and back of a t-shirt. The freedom of movement text came to me one day while brushing my teeth, while the no one is illegal graphic was inspired and more or less lifted from this banner. We picked some languages that fit our context/identities better and worked on getting the best translations in Spanish, French, Chinese and Farsi that we could.

Last week we did a run of the freedom of movement image as a screen-print in some really awesome colours and gradients, and today we made a bunch of posters and t-shirts with the no one is illegal image, but we haven’t united the two designs yet.

Between my job at a youth centre and my community work, I’ve been doing a lot more screen-printing lately, and that’s been making me pretty happy. While printing today (and making some other art, including a banner and giant scissors), we had a conversation about how we first got exposed to screen-printing.

I remember running into my friend Michael Jacko, who had just bought some mesh from the art store and was trying to explain the concept of screen-printing to me, before it made any sense. And then I remember Txus Parras Todos taking up an unofficial artist residency in the hallway of the OPIRG-Toronto office, where he created his own mobile studio and showed us how it was done.

I remember Punchclock making the best movement t-shirts ever. Being introduced to Justseeds. Getting my hands painty again with my DIY apartment heroes Cameron and Sheila. Benefitting from Renee’s vision. Lara’s generosity. Holding it down with Louis and Kai’anne. And the feeling of helping someone else with their first pull. <3

Feb 11

Graphic Influences II

Left image from No One Is Illegal – Toronto, center by the wonderful Favianna Rodriguez, right image (original) of Chicanas at a protest rally in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, taken by Raul Ruiz for La Raza magazine, found in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, edited by Alma M. García (1997)

Left and center image from Favianna Rodriguez, right image The Tobacco Harvest Awaits Your Youthful Hand (1983) by Juan A. Gomez in Revolucion! Cuban Poster Art (2003) by Lincoln Cushing

Left image by Blackness Yes!, right image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at 1968 Summer Olympics

Wasun’s album cover for What Must Be Done (2005) and poster by Lazaro Abreu (1968) with original illustration by Emory Douglas, captured by Lincoln Cushing

This second edition of graphic influences (my first post on this blog) touches on two themes.

The first is the migration and evolution of images over time: from Cuba to Oakland; and from 1970s Los Angeles to present-day Toronto by way of Oakland.

The second theme is African Liberation Month, as celebrated by our embattled community radio station CKLN. The last two sets show how the imagery of black power movements continue to inform and inspire organizing today within hip hop and queer communities.

Dec 10

Art Deco and Colonialism

“East African Transport ~ Old Style”  (1931) and part of “East African Transport ~ New Style” (1931) by Adrian Allinson, in Graphic Design: A New History (2007) by Stephen J. Eskilson

“a number of Art Deco graphic works were commissioned to advertise the colonial empires that were a huge part of the European economy. In the face of criticism at home regarding the economic and moral issues of colonialism, both Britain and France sought to convince their own citizens of the virtues of empire. In 1926, the British government established the Empire Marketing Board, in order to persuade its citizens to do business with British colonies.”

“Pick brought to the Board the conviction that modern abstract styles were more effective at catching the eye of the viewer than traditional illustration”

“the two images do not communicate an economic theme, but rather are intended to convey the message that the Empire has improved life in the colonies while at the same time assuring the public of the benevolent control exercised by the white man.”