Among the many art galleries at Pioneer Square, one stood out from the rest last Thursday with a crowd that not only filled the venue but even spilled out onto the sidewalk.
Statement art from the 1980s.
The gallery was Civilization, a new face in the scene specializing in digital design, and the event introduced its very first exhibit: “The Design of Dissent.” Described by Civilization as a display of “prominent graphic works of social and political protest and critique”, The Design of Dissent features over 50 artworks that tackle a wide range of social issues.
“This is an exhibit that’s very timely and relevant with the current political environment,” said Angela Engbrecht, one of the guests at the event. “We’re in a situation where people are seeing dissent as divisive, but it can also be patriotic and I think that is what this display is trying to communicate.”
The exhibit consists of works from the 1960s to the present, which not only provided a frame with which to compare the challenges of different eras, but also see the underlying connection shared by all of these political works. Each section of the Design of Dissent represented a different 20-year chapter in history, serving as a window for the thoughts and concerns of people living in those years.
The first segment, encompassing to the ’60s and ’70s, includes works expressing anti-war sentiments towards the Vietnam and Korean War, in addition the poignant Black Panther newspaper cover with the words “Capitalism Plus Racism Breeds Fascism.” For the ’80s and ’90s portion of the exhibit, there are works tackling issues like the AIDS crisis during the Reagan administration as well as gender inequality in art and media.
The final portion is dedicated to the early 2000s and the present, beginning with works on human trafficking and the war in the Middle East and ending with the 2016 presidential election. Some of the material in this section was relevant to very recent events such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, the #shoutyourabortion campaign and criticism of labels like “nasty woman” and “bad hombres” which emerged during last year’s campaign.
“The day after the election we were pretty heartbroken,” said Michael Ellsworth, co-founder of Civilization. “It’s the least we can do in these times.”
Exhibition goer looking at art from the 1960s.
Ellsworth explained that the “Design of Dissent” is a revival of an exhibit made by Milton Glaser, the famous graphic designer behind the “I Heart New York” logo. Glaser’s original exhibit was displayed in 2005 at The School of Visual Arts in New York in opposition to George H.W. Bush’s second term as president. Civilization’s adaptation in 2017 uses 60 percent of the works collected by Glaser, supplemented by timely new artworks, some of which were collected as recently as a week before the opening of the exhibit.
“I think graphic design can be a catalyst for change,” Ellsworth said. “Things like the peace sign or the power fist are symbols that go past language and creating symbols is what graphic design is.”
Though primarily made up of large and visually striking posters and prints, there was also a significant part of the exhibit made up of works in other mediums. These collections included everything from books and magazines to buttons and stamps to wearables like t-shirts and other articles of clothing. The variety of objects expressing these messages of protest gave the exhibit a mixed- media aesthetic that communicated the many outlets design work can be applied to.
“It’s inspiring,” said David Reeves, another visitor at the gallery. “Right now there’s a big need for dissent and protest. I hope people take inspiration from this and also come up with their own language for expressing their reality in today’s society.”
With the relevance of resistance movements that are presently in motion, particularly here in the city of Seattle, the Design of Dissent could not be better timed. It presents guests not only with the opportunity to learn about movements of the past, but also seriously meditate on the importance of dissent in the present.
“The Design of Dissent” Exhibit is free to attend and will be on display until April 6. It is hosted at Civilization, located on 532 1st Ave S and is easily accessible via streetcar. For more information on Civilization’s hours and availability, visit www.facebook.com/builtbycivilization/
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