The fine art (and design) of protest
Angry imagery is aesthetically pleasing in Liz McQuiston's Visual Impact: Creative Dissent in the 21st Century
David Cameron portrayed as the cod philosopher of the council estate, Mao Zedung portrayed as the family cat and, infinitely less comical, children’s toy soldiers remoulded as shell-shocked and suicidal war veterans, incomplete with missing limbs.
The images in Visual Impact: Creative Dissent in the 21st Century, Liz McQuiston’s authoritatively researched, approachably written, and meticulously designed new book on the fine art of graphic protest go way beyond mere poster art – though there are, as you might suspect, some great posters in it.
Instead it ably demonstrates, in every different shape, style and form, the extraordinary power of art and graphic design to drive social and political change– from images on the side of a bus shelter to board games based around the war on terror, from spray paint on a tenement wall to a remotely deletable gif on a smartphone.
Governmental response (or sometimes lack of) to catastrophic natural events, the short-lived Arab spring, drawn out wars and the fall of dictators, and the chaos rather than cohesion that follows, marriage inequality and the politics of feminism (and fashion) among others are all presented, dissected and discussed in a tactile, colourful format every bit as edgy as the images themselves.
And while Visual Impact might not merely be a poster book, it is a poster child of sorts for the human spirit of protest. Flicking through the pages of this book you'll see citizen journalism writ large on billboards, cryptically encoded on mobile phones, carried on the middle finger of a dissident artist raised in defiance at the authority of cultural and political institutions; on the side of a packet of mints even, on which the packaging reads: More Bill Less Kill – an update of the old hippy mantra, make love not war - and even a painstakingly transcribed radio interview with a trauma surgeon in a Syrian hospital that's been turned into a powerful gallery painting.
Author Liz McQuiston has had a lifetime in graphic design and its related disciplines and has authored a substantial number of books on graphic design related subjects – the best known of them including Graphic Agitation, Suffragettes to She-Devils and Women in Design. Who better then to helm this global study of the century’s most exciting and influential imagery and to provide an over view of the the events that imagery documented?
As you’d expect of someone who maintained a graphic design practice for more than 20 years and who has held teaching and management posts including Head of Department of Graphic Art and Design at the Royal College of Art, and who’s curated exhibitions on political art across the globe, McQuiston seeks out the most important and exciting things currently going on in graphic protest and, along the way, helpfully contextualizes the most groundbreaking elements of these visually stimulating campaigns via a succinct and easy-going writing style.
Given her background you’d expect Visual Impact to be exhaustive and it is. Two hundred plus artists from all over the world are represented, some of them well known: Shepherd Fairey, JR and Ai Weiwei for instance, many more anonymous influencers who did their artistic bit to change the status quo.
To guide the reader it’s organized thematically by issues and events. McQuiston tees up each chapter, setting the scene or gently jogging recent memory in a compelling style every bit as impactful as the images surrounding it.
You'll find all this between the covers of a a tactile, fluoro jacket that only goes to mirror the hazardous content and the bright and bold art and ideas contained within. If you’re at all interested or engaged with the political and aesthetic age in which we live you're gong to devour this. Pre-order Visual Impact: Creative Dissent in the 21st Century here.