Exhibition: Signs of Resistance
Last week the Poetry Foundation opened Signs of Resistance, an exhibition of posters, banners, and other ephemera of direct action made in response to social unrest. The crowd of language on the gallery wall documents the landscape of words in action while amplifying resistance to racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and other systems of environmental and institutional violence. Work from poets, artists, and organizing groups in Chicago are hung on top of a comissioned installation of letter-press posters created by Angela Davis Fegan, from the lavender menace poster project, which were posted on top of Tyrue "Slang" Jones's mural, Through the Eyes of Miss Brooks, which was created in honor of Brooks's centennial celebration. Gallery vitrines feature buttons, the majority provided by Busy Beaver Button Co., that were made for specific actions as well as everyday resistance. We have also made a "creation station" where visitors can make signs that reflect their own vision for positive social change, as well as coloring pages from Color Me Rising, A 2015 Radical Coloring Book by For the People’s Artist Collective. Signs of Resistance celebrates the voices of the frontline and the poetics of citizenship and was co-curated by the Poetry Foundation and poet, playwright, and activist Kristiana Rae Colón, thanks to whose leadership and vision we pulled everything together.
This is not a protest. What you'll find at this exhibit is an institutional representation of the protest moment in Chicago, and echos of real action taken in resistance to systemic death and opression. We didn't know what the exhibit would look like till it was up and done, not unlike the masses who gather on the regular in the streets of our beloved city of Chicago. For a clearer look behind the signs, we've invited Sarah-Ji, a movement photographer whose work we used to promote the show in advance of the final installation, to write about her experience documenting freedom struggles in Chicago over the last 6 years. Here she is, with a selction of her incredible photographs.
For the past seven years, I have been documenting freedom struggles in Chicago. I call my work Love & Struggle Photos because, for me, both love and struggle are very much intertwined in the countless stories of resistance that I have had the honor of capturing through my lens. Whether it was the fight for a south-side trauma center, the #FightForDyett Hunger Strike to save a neighborhood high school, We Charge Genocide’s muti-faceted organizing around police violence, the #ByeAnita campaign to oust a racist state's attorney, or Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project's fight for an ordinance to provide reparations for survivors of police torture, what I witnessed was an abundance of love as the foundation for these struggles.
Black people and people of color as well as those who are LGBTQIA, disabled, poor, immigrant, and/or undocumented have long lived under systemic oppression in this country, a country that was built upon genocide and slavery. These communities have also been resisting oppression for just as long, and those signs of resistance are very much present today in the city of Chicago, which has a rich history of protest and grassroots movement building. I am fortunate to be part of For the People Artists Collective (FTP), which is a radical squad of Black artists and artists of color in Chicago who are also organizing around local struggles. One of the beautiful things about movement building in Chicago is that art is central to the work, whether it's visual art, poetry, theater, or music.
In addition to being a movement photographer, I am also an abolitionist. For me, this means envisioning and building towards a world in which prisons and police are obsolete, not through the magical snap of one's fingers, but by creating a radically different kind of world, the kind that nurtures relationships and connections and healing, the kind that addresses the root causes of oppression and violence, the kind in which resources are allocated so that all our basic needs are met. As I document the freedom struggles in Chicago, I am continually encouraged because so many of the current struggles are rooted in abolition, whether it’s the fight for quality neighborhood schools, the end of cash bail and pre-trial detention, healthcare as a human right, defunding and demilitarizing the police, or closing youth prisons.
Our communities are currently facing virulent forms of oppression and violence, whether from overt white supremacists or institutionalized (but no less violent) forms of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. For those of us who love justice and believe in freedom, doing nothing is not an option. As Mariame Kaba said, "To transform the conditions of our oppression(s), we can only do what we can today, where we are, in the best way that we know how." And so I will continue to document the beautiful resistance of the people of Chicago, so that we never forget our stories of love and struggle towards collective liberation. This is how I resist.