There is no better visual artifact to record history

Andrea Marks & Nancy Froehlich

We are the 99%.

This definitive slogan of the Occupy movement is instantly recognizable around the country and perhaps the world. Like other popular campaigns, from civil rights demonstrations to anti-war rallies, the Occupy movement commanded visibility through visual materials, notably posters and handmade signs—but with a difference. “In this 21st century grass-roots campaign, posters had a huge visual presence on the Internet,” say co-researchers Andrea Marks and Nancy Froehlich. The two are sharing a Center Research Fellowship to pursue work on their project, “Occupy: Visualizing a Grass-Roots Movement in the 21st Century.” The two will examine the visual components of the Occupy movement, specifically poster art, and will explore the role of the Internet in poster creation and dissemination.

“We are interested in researching the diverse media used to create the posters—silkscreen, hand-drawn, computer—the diverse content of the messages seen on the posters, and the role of the Internet in the way many of the posters were made and seen,” the collaborators wrote in their proposal. One entire wall of their Center office is covered in miniature versions of the scores of posters they’ve collected. The posters will eventually be developed into a traveling exhibition and catalogue, with a companion website.

“There is no better visual artifact to record history than the poster. . . An overview of a country’s posters provides a glimpse into the fashion, products, and technology of that particular time. Protest posters give the viewer a snapshot into a country’s political and social history.”

Marks and Froehlich are Graphic Design faculty members in OSU’s College of Business. Marks has already established herself in poster research through her project on Polish posters, which resulted in the widely-screened film Freedom on the Fence. Froehlich is well grounded in digital arts and D.I.Y. (Design it Yourself), also fundamental to this project.

Though it is difficult to imagine a demonstration or march today without posters, it was not until the 1960s that the political poster “became a part of the social, political, and cultural landscape. The fear and paranoia of the Cold War and the McCarthy era kept political commentaries to limited-edition prints. . . Simple handwritten placards such as ‘I AM a Man’ were the predominant messaging tools used by civil rights activists.”

The 1960s rock and counterculture movements coming out of the Bay Area triggered freer political expression that really exploded in 1970 with the Kent State and Jackson State shootings. War protests swept the country and several poster workshops were founded, including one at UC-Berkeley where students produced over 50,000 posters in a matter of months.

A similar creative wave came with the Occupy demonstrations, leading to production of hundreds of posters by professional designers and amateurs alike.

“The most significant difference between the spate of posters that sprang up in 1970 and the 2011 Occupy posters was the use of digital and social media. The advanced state of the Internet as a global communication tool, and the popularity of D.I.Y., added new and innovative ways to spread the Occupy movement’s message. Our project aims to uncover commonalities and differences in grass-roots resistance from the past and today.”