Posters are the face of global protest. It’s imagery from posters that define the women’s marches, become icons of a president, and exert power in the hands of children who left the classroom earlier this week to advocate for gun-law reform.
A new book called Posters for Change from the Princeton Architectural Press highlights a selection of 50 powerful political posters grounded in the American experience that combine typography and imagery to oppose fracking, advocate for gender equity, espouse the importance of immigration, and generally resist the established power structures in the country. The best part of the collection? They’re all tear-out posters, a handy ready-made set for people to use at whichever protest they plan to attend next, whether it’s focused on climate change legislation or gun violence.
Many of the posters are effective because of the way they use typography. One, by the graphic designer Spencer Bagert, has a red backdrop with the sprawled words “Stay Woke.” It’s dripping with urgency, and looks like it was scrawled on a wall in paint–albeit by someone with very nice handwriting. Another, by British designer Ian Perkins, uses a blocky, multi-color font to play with people’s associations between boys and blue and girls and pink. Perkins’s poster is a list of different colors that are “for” boys–not just blue, but also green, yellow, orange, white, and pink–and “for” girls–not just pink, but purple, red, turquoise, black, and blue. And a third, by the research and design collective Other Forms, takes aim at capitalism itself, playfully implicating the production of typography as a type of labor that’s exploited by the system. The poster reads, “The production of new typefaces is only a necessity under capitalism,” taken from a letter written in 1931 by designer Jan Tschichold. Every line of the poster is in a new typeface.
Other posters are utterly focused on images, with no words, or typefaces, needed to make their point. Take the architect Rajiv Fernandez’s striking Immigrant Lady Liberty, which depicts the Statue of Liberty wearing a hijab, emerging as a beacon of light out of an obscure, blue backdrop. In a completely different style, illustrator Allison Conway’s American Landscape depicts the industry of harvesting food. Her poster, originally published in a resistance comic book series, is a collection of comic book-style blocks that begin on an aerial level but zoom closer and closer on an endless landscape composed of pens of animals stuffed together.
All the posters come from an open call Princeton Architectural Press launched in 2017, during which the publishing house received 800 poster designs from 36 countries. All the proceeds from the book go to four nonprofits, focused on fighting for human rights, gender equality, immigrant protections, and environmental issues in Native American communities.
In the book’s afterward, the creator of the iconic 1987 Silence = Death poster Avram Finkelstein writes on the power of images within the information age, when most of us don’t understand how exactly visual inundation impacts the way we think and act in the world. Finkelstein thinks that’s where posters can play a role.
“Physical posters in physical spaces have a power that exceeds the evanescence of internet messaging,” he writes. “The poster comes for you where you live.”