February 2008, Black Panther: Emory Douglas @ MOCA Pacific Design Center

 Emory Douglas, poster from The Black Panther, March 9, 1969, offset lithograph, Collection of Alden and Mary Kimbrough,
 Los Angeles, © Emory Douglas

Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas
MOCA Pacific Design Center
October 21st, 2007 through February 24th, 2008

Jesi Khadivi, WM LA

For better or worse, style plays a significant role in propelling social movements and historicizing their images. The seductive, bomb throwing chic of the Baader-Meinhof Gang and Hanoi Jane’s power fisted mug shot have spawned numerous fetishist coffee table books and fashion magazines spreads. (Prada Meinhof, anyone?) Revolutionary groups live on in our popular consciousness because of the radical style they embody as much as their politics.

 Emory Douglas, poster from The Black Panther, August 21, 1971,
 offset lithograph, Collection of Alden Mary Kimbrough,
 Los Angeles, © Emory Douglas

The Black Panther Party is no exception. Founded by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in Oakland, California in 1966, the Panthers espoused the importance of self-determination in the wake of a government that oppressed, neglected and exploited African American people. They started programs offering breakfast for school children, free food, free clothing and free shoes. Not only did they serve their community, they made being black look powerful. Their uniform of afros, berets and leather jackets perfectly encapsulated the Black Power movement of the 60s and 70s.

 Emory Douglas, poster from The Black Panther, August 23, 1972,
 offset lithograph, Collection of the Center for Study of Political Graphics,
 Los Angeles, © Emory Douglas

The Panthers built their brand beautifully. They were brilliant self-promoters. An integral part of the Panther “By any means necessary” image is the work of their Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas. Douglas joined the party in 1967 at the age of 22. His lithograph posters, collages and drawings were featured prominently in the party newspaper, The Black Panther. MOCA Pacific Design Center has mounted an impressive exhibition of Douglas’ work thanks to the generous assistance of collectors Alden and Mary Kimbrough, as well as other private collectors and cultural institutions. The exhibition features lithograph posters in both black and white and eye-popping color, an extensive selection of The Black Panther papers and a wall sized reproduction of Douglas’ design for Afro-American Solidarity with the Oppressed People of the World.

 Emory Douglas, poster from The Black Panther, September 21, 1974, offset lithograph,
 Collection of Alden and Mary Kimbrough, Los Angeles, © Emory Douglas

The right to self-defense was a critical component of the Panther credo. Huey P. Newton chose the metaphor because the cat never attacks unprovoked, but will fight to its death. Douglas’ representations of this ethos fuse Russian Constructivism, psychedelic poster design and FAP style propaganda. The overall tenor swings between the quasi-evangelical progressivism and aggression. Many of Douglas’ designs feature inspirational quotations like “We shall survive. Without a doubt.” As many, if not more, show the possession of a weapon as a vital step on this road to liberation. Douglas’ iconic use of women, children and firearms showed that the movement was nurtured, growing and nothing to fuck with.


Jesi Khadivi in LA

Jesi Khadivi is a writer and curator living in Los Angeles. She writes for Venus Zine and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. She recently completed research on the definitive biography of Gram Parsons and is currently working on her first book.  gramparsonsinterviews@gmail.com

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