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Passion's staying power

December 02, 2007|Hugh Hart

Poster artist Chaz Maviyane-Davies fled Zimbabwe in 2000 after his Internet-distributed "graphic commentaries" criticizing President Robert Mugabe landed him in hot water. "I've always used graphic design as a sort of weapon or tool to fight for democracy," Maviyane-Davies said. "My work touched a nerve. When Mugabe became more vindictive and passed laws that made what I was doing illegal, it was time for me and my family to leave Zimbabwe for our safety. We managed to get out quite quickly."

Maviyane-Davis landed at the Massachusetts College of Art. There, he and professor Elizabeth Resnick channeled their passion for politically charged signage into "The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice & the Environment 1965 to 2005," on display at Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Gallery through Dec. 15.

Originally organized for just three venues, "Graphic Imperative" has become a hit on college campuses and is slated to tour university galleries into 2009, according to Resnick. "We really hit a vein at a time when more and more design students are realizing they can use their visual language skills for the benefit of mankind, not just to sell goods and services. It's the identical skill set."

Familiar advertising brands figure into works such as Ester Hernandez's "Sun Mad II," which dresses up a skeleton in the familiar Sun-Maid outfit to protest use of pesticides on raisin farms. "iRaq," an example of so-called subtervising from the Forkscrew Graphics design firm, replaces the apple in iPod's ubiquitous logo with a hand grenade icon.

The 111-poster collection also includes "Contra Diction," Robbie Conal's wrinkly caricature of Ronald Reagan; "Eco Crime," Luba Lukova's woodcut-style illustration of a half-human/half-tree taking an ax to its own trunk; and "Six Numbers" by Yossi Lemel, who blew up a photograph of his father's Auschwitz tattoo to create a 6-meter-wide poster.

Maviyane-Davies spent 18 months with Resnick and co-curator Frank Baseman rounding up activist art that relies on sheer physical scale and pithy use of metaphor to pack a punch. "The best posters distill an idea into something very powerful by using simple graphic forms," he says. "In Shigeo Fukuda's antiwar 'Victory 1945' poster, for example, the bullet is going backward into the barrel of a gun. Lex Drewinski's 'Hunger' shows the huge man's stomach cut away from the malnourished guy's stomach. When you cut out every single word, take something that people understand from their culture and then throw it back to them in a new way -- that conveys the power of great graphic design."


-- Hugh Hart

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