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Political posters help illuminate 1968

Topic: 

'All of Us or None' curator explores personal, artistic links to momentuous year  
 

  If you've seen The 1968 Exhibit you've probably come across All
of Us or None
, an excellent showcase of political posters drawn from
a large archive amassed by late Free Speech Movement organizer and
activist Michael Rossman.

The more than 23,000-piece collection is now part of the Oakland
Museum and is overseen by archivist, author, artist and librarian
Lincoln Cushing, who curated the poster exhibit. Cushing selected 68
works - all made in the San Francisco Bay Area - that illustrate the
artistic, social and cultural concerns of the period.

But Cushing's ties to poster art extend beyond the "All of Us or
None" collection. His love for the art form stretches back to
adolescence. In 1968, he was a high school student in Washington D.C.
and says that "anybody with a pulse" was aware of the political movement
swirling around them.

Art was definitely part of the mix and inspired by posters he had
seen, Cushing made his first silkscreen print in 1969. It was a piece
about the generation gap.
He explains that in those days, there was a real difference between
young and old. "The idea of going into a world that was straight and
gray was not appealing," he says. "There was a massive youth culture
itching for something else, something attractive and utopian."

Cushing's poster, viewable on 
www.docspopuli.org,
is titled "Two Worlds"  and is a bold meditation on the idea of polar
opposites. In it, a pair of silhouettes encased in an oval are separated
by what looks like water. A long haired barefooted youth holding a
guitar and flashing a peace sign is in one half and his opposite,
dressed in a suit and holding a briefcase, is reflected in the other.

Cushing's poster production continued in San Diego where he
attended college. He says he was influenced by the work of Sister Mary
Corita, a Roman Catholic nun and revered artist who was
making "provocative" artistic prints about social justice and civil
rights. "They were beautiful," Cushing remembers. "They inspired me to
jump in."

Fast forward to today
and Cushing is still living and breathing the art form. Organizing the All of None of Us exhibition allowed him to focus on work created during
several decades.

A companion to The 1968 Exhibit, the display showcases three
pieces made that year including a portrait of presidential candidate
Eugene McCarthy by artist Wilfried "Sätty" Podreich. Another depicts a
marijuana joint which Cushing says symbolizes the counterculture and the
shedding of traditional roles and values of the previous decade.
Rounded out by a piece on a strike at San Francisco State University,
the works address three major themes of the 60s and 70s.

But despite the rise of TV and other mass mediums providing intense
coverage of the Vietnam War and other social, political and cultural
issues of that era, posters proved to be an incredibly powerful form of
communication, Cushing explains. They were independent productions,
created at very grass roots levels that "represented a vehicle to get
the word out for poor, disenfranchised communities, Black Panthers,
activists and those without television."

And while today's
political posters might be addressing different subjects, their makers
are definitely looking at the past for inspiration, Cushing says.
"There's a resurgent interest in craft. People are feeling constrained
and this generation is looking at a future that's not enormously happy.
There's a thirst for handmade political prints."