Being neither creator nor professional critic of works such as these, I must commence with phenomena more familiar to a scholar in Humanities: word. “The Graphic Imperative”… I especially appreciate the term “imperative” It implies that the 121 posters compromising the show contain not just appealing hues and emotional stimulants, but commands, orders, irresistible recommendations. Our attention, perhaps even our action, is required. This adjective, “graphic,” certainly alludes to the particular illustrative medium. More than that, however, “graphic” entails that the posters selected for the exhibition are vivid, striking, and explicit, leaving little to the imagination. Why “The Graphic Imperative” rather than “A Graphic Imperative”? I have faith that this use of the definite article is not pretentious, but indicative of the universality of the issues addressed by individual artists from their specific national settings during the four distinct decades of recent history. Nowadays we all are one people.
While each of the two dozen contributions I saw or heard of prior to the show left its unique impression, three in particular grabbed my attention. On the exhibition website, repeated mention was made of the poster “War Is Not Healthy for Children of Other Living Things.” Produced by Lorraine Schneider in 1967, it captures the often-gentle protestations of the Flower Children’s generation against massacres of villagers and napalming of jungles during the United States’ undeclared war in Vietnam. That faraway conflict was a focal concern throughout my formative years. The interdependence of war, poverty, and other forms of suffering became exceedingly clear to me as I mourned the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy and later observed homeless children sleeping on the forbidding streets of Bogotá, Columbia. Safely back in college, I pinned a two-inch square “War Is Not Healthy…” button to my backpack; it stayed there for a year, until I ripped it off during Richard Nixon’s second inauguration.
Gazing at Lourdes Zolezzi’s “Against Violence to Women” (2000) produces agony, as one (a female, at any rate) almost feels those sharp scissors slicing her intimate parts and dashing all hopes for procreation. The hundreds of brutal murders of young women employed in the maquiladoras (manufacturing plants) of Ciudad Juárez, which began in the 1990s remained unsolved. They bespeak a fanatical misogyny and apparently limitless desire to inflict pain; the latter continues to manifest daily between Mexican narcotraficantes (traffickers in illegal drugs) and their perceived enemies. I crossed the border into Juárez twice last July despite being advised by El Pasoans to avoid the risk of intruding on gun battles between rival cartels. Frequent reminders of the serial killer(s) simultaneously increased my level of alertness and deepened my resolve not to be held captive in my hotel room by threats of random assaults.
I am pleased to conclude this essay on a positive note. The Russian Yuri Surkov designed “Coexistence” in 2000 for an Israeli anti-war museum. It symbolizes the three Abrahamic monotheisms residing in a paradisiacal harmony belied by the nightly news. Yet irrespective of the ethereal nature of the environment portrayed, this poster conveys resolve and anticipation. It serves to remind me why I teach six sections of my World Religions course each academic year and why I vote and advocate as I do (even to the extent of attaching a bright blue “CoExist” bumper sticker to my red Alero). Surkov’s peaceful vision denotes no less than that which each and every human being had the sacred right to enjoy.
Dr. Suzanne Morrison is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion.
image: Lorraine Schneider, “Another Mother for Peace, War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things,” USA, 1967, 67.5 x 56 cm.