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.


Jan 11

Fight Ford’s Cuts

Really happy to be able to make this. Much respect to the stencilist who put this up. I was also experimenting with some animated GIF creators, but maybe I’ll save that for another time.

Nov 10

OCAP 20!

Seriously, who does it like OCAP can?

Hmm … How about some love for all the Palestine solidarity activists out there?!

Sep 10

Mapping People’s History

I just found out about this Labour History Map produced by CUPE Local 79′s David Kidd and Maureen Hynes from the School of Labour at George Brown College. The map consists of 3 tours organized by 19th century, early 20th, and post-war Toronto.

It joins a constellation of existing projects that are attempting to popularize a “people’s history” of Toronto like the Great Indian Bus Tour of Toronto organized by the Toronto Native Community History Project, the Missing Plaque Project,  and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s (OCAP) History’s What We Make It perpetual calendar. Long-time OCAP organizer Gaetan Heroux is also known to organize a tour on “Relief and Resistance: A Poor People’s History of East Downtown Toronto” and activists Bonnie Burstow and Don Weitz have given a people’s history workshop on “Fighting Psychiatric Violence and Oppression”. While a student I produced a Radical Map of UofT and folks have organized Disorientation tours.

With a much larger focus, No One Is Illegal – Vancouver produced a People’s History of Kanada poster project. It’s hard to mention NOII-Vancouver’s poster project without mentioning the Celebrate People’s History posters produced by Justseeds and their recent collectively-produced book Firebrands, or to even mention any of these projects without recognizing the foundational work of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States that has inspired so many of us.

People’s histories have taught me the invaluable lesson that we are not just the targets of historical forces and events – we actively shape it. History’s what we make it!

Two final recommendations: when I was in New York last summer, it was great to have Radical Walking Tours of New York Cityhandy, and to explore the Chicago Poetry Tour when I was there.

Aug 10

People Lived Here, Now Look At It

Image from lomo_iberico on Flickr

Biking on Lakeshore East, you can see the remains of posters pasted over trespassing signs that commemorate the Tent City and its residents who were evicted by Home Depot in 2002.



Shop. Destroy. Rule.


Image: boukesalverda on Flickr (link inactive, clearer image of the poster with the text above)

While looking for a an older, more complete image of the poster, like the one above from 2004, I stumbled across stories and images from an earlier squat that took place in the silos next to the Tent City site, known as the Rooster Squat for the faded 30-foot rooster mural on the side of the silos (unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos in which the rooster is visible).

Now? Image by booledozer on Flickr

Rooster Squat 1998. Images from x-squeegee’z in canada Facebook group photo album.

c. 1998 View from Rooster Squat by David Barket Maltby

Rebels Rule video by Will Munro, music from Joel Gibb. Note the visit to the silos by the rebels.

Tent City images by red_rocketship on Flickr

“In the winter of ’98, a collection of youths was found living in the Rooster Squat, a derelict building on the old Canada Malting site, at Lake Shore and Queens Quay, beside the port lands.

The city wanted to tear it down but the squatters wouldn’t leave. In January, Councillor Jack Layton convinced some of them to move to the lot next door. Two insulated trailers were donated by the Canadian Foundation for World Development. Independently of Layton, several street men showed up, building the first permanent structures- little lean-to shanties.

A few months later, Layton delivered some donated tents. By summer, drivers on the Cherry St. bridge could look down and see a cluster of campers. The name Tent City was born.

In the meantime, Home Depot finalized its land purchase, taking possession of the site in April, 1998, with an eye to developing it as a downtown location for a big box store.”

- Moira Welsh, Toronto Star, Sept. 25 2002.

I haven’t had a chance to view it yet, but the Housepaint blog linked to a documentary, Subtext: Real Stories, that focuses on Tent City. Embedding is turned off, so you have to click here to watch.

Housepaint was a recent art project that brought together graffiti/street artists to commemorate Tent City with live painting at the site. The final pieces were eventually displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum and sold with proceeds donated to Habitat for Humanity.

For me, the history of Tent City and the Rooster Squat definitely speaks to the need for affordable housing, but charity-based approaches do not go far enough. Charities and narrow affordable housing campaigns tend to ignore the overall economic system that makes people homeless and criminalizes their efforts to produce their own housing solutions.

Squats are not just indicators of what is wrong with a society and its distribution of resources. When people exercise their power to create their own autonomous communities, they are inspiring examples of what is right.

“…they took matters into their own hands in a manner that truly frightens those in authority: they squatted abandoned and commercially ‘unproductive’ land. Like all squatters from Berlin to Vancouver they threatened the very foundation of our system: private property and the right to stop someone else who needs it from using it as shelter.”

- John Richmond, Briar Patch, Nov. 1998.

Jul 10

They Can’t Jail Our Hearts

G20 image by Sheila Hewlett

I co-host a radio show on CKLN 88.1FM on the 1st and 3rd Friday every month. Our archive of past shows is accessible here and here.

Last night’s show was titled “Neoliberal Dress Rehearsals: Fighting Austerity and State Repression with OCAP”.

We spoke with John Clarke from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) about post-G20 organizing in Toronto and the parallels between the criminalization of community organizers during the G20 and OCAP’s June 15, 2000 demonstration at Queen’s Park.

“No Borders No Fences” Harsha Walia, Jaggi Singh and SK Hussan + Sikh Knowledge

Support the legal defense efforts: http://www.g20.torontomobilize.org/

Meal, Rally and Action
Wednesday, July 21 @ 12 noon
Ministry of Community and Social Services, 900 Bay St @ Wellesley
Poster here: http://update.ocap.ca/node/896

Jul 10

OCAP Poster Magnets!

Picked up these incredible mini-poster magnets at the OCAP table during the Toronto Anarchist Assembly and Bookfair in April.

Fight to Win!

Meal, Rally and Action
Wednesday, July 21 @ 12 noon
Ministry of Community and Social Services, 900 Bay St @ Wellesley
Poster here: http://update.ocap.ca/node/896

Jul 10

Graphic Influences

I love going through books on political posters. It’s especially gratifying to make connections between past and present moments and movements. I pulled three examples from Political Posters in Central and Eastern Europe 1945-1995 by James Aulich and Marta Sylvestrova, which I picked up from the UofT Library.

The image above is a Polish May Day poster produced in 1977 by Maciej Ubaniec. The image below, produced by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, integrates the Polish image to represent a housing squat in Toronto. As part of their extraordinary history of organizing against poverty and injustice, OCAP has always produced amazing visuals and thankfully they have put together an archive on their website.

This side-by-side comparison shows the original image, Victor Koretsky’s We need peace! (1950), that influenced this cover designed by Noaman Ali for the 2006 Arts and Science Students’ Union Anti-Calendar, a student-run review of courses. The likenesses of university administrators are substituted for the original figures seated around the table, with a student – or student-worker – replacing the worker in the original.

Finally, I admit it’s not bang-on, but the style and colours in this strip of images by Alexander Vasilovich Vorona, particularly the first two, reminded me of Shepard Fairey and his appropriation of political graphics for his own corporate re-branding exercises.