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Power to the people: Black Panthers’ illustrator Emory Douglas back on view

The graphic artist also served as the party’s culture minister in the 1960s and 70s

by David D'Arcy  |  23 October 2015
Power to the people: Black Panthers’ illustrator Emory Douglas back on view
Emory Douglas, Untitled (Afro-American solidarity with the oppressed People of the world), 1969; printed 2015. Photo: collection of the artist, © 2015 Emory Douglas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The era of the Black Panther Party, from the late 1960s through the 70s, is getting a revival with the release across the US of Stanley Nelson’s documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. And Emory Douglas, a cartoonist who served as the party’s minister of culture during those years, is seeing his work receive new attention.
 
Douglas’s images, which blended Pop art, muralist influences and depictions of African-Americans—still a relative rarity in those years—were published every week in The Black Panther, the party newspaper, which Douglas produced with a skeleton staff. The paper and Douglas’s cartoons reached an estimated 400,000 readers a week at the height of the party’s influence, far more than the “underground” comics of R. Crumb, which were also popular at the time.
 
Introduced to graphic arts in a juvenile prison in California, Douglas studied art at the City College of San Francisco. Douglas, now 72, said that his images connected with a wider audience than could be reached through the strident political rhetoric of The Black Panther. “The vast majority of the black community wasn’t going to read long articles—it wasn’t a reading community, per se—but they learned through observation and participation,” said Douglas, speaking from his home in San Francisco. “When they saw an artist’s images, they could get the gist of what was going on, through the art itself”. In the documentary, the journalist Felipe Luciano noted that Douglas’s pictures were a parallel news source.
 
Earlier this year, the America Institute of Graphic Arts awarded Douglas its Lifetime Medal. His prints are on view at the Sheldon Art Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (until 3 January 2016). His work is also included in the exhibition Hippie Modernism: the Struggle for Utopia, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (24 October-28 February 2016), and he is scheduled to speak at the museum on 14 December.

• The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is in selected theatres now

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