In ‘Posters on Politics,’ internationa...

In ‘Posters on Politics,’ international artists confront social justice with design

The Detroit exhibit features 200 posters from artists across the globe.

posters from posters on politics exhibition in detroit

Posters from “Posters on Politics” exhibition, L-R: “Black Lives Matter,” by Orhun Türker of Turkey, “Women in Politics,” by Damian Klaczkiewicz of Poland and “Vivos Hoy y Siempre,” by Natalia Volpe of Argentina. Courtesy DMJ Studio

When a poster really strikes a nerve, it can stick around in our personal memories for years — and in the cultural memory for decades. Think Shepard Fairey’s “HOPE” poster for former President Barack Obama’s first campaign, or the iconic Rosie the Riveter “We can do it!” image dating back to World War II. 

Posters are “this very simple, very accessible tool to get a message out,” said Donna Jackson, artist, designer and curator of the exhibition “Posters on Politics,” currently on view in Detroit

Jackson, owner of DMJ studio, produced the first “Posters on Politics” exhibition in 2016, as an “answer to a lot of people’s angst about what happened” in the presidential election. Now in its third iteration, this year’s exhibit has a more global perspective, both in the issues addressed by the more than 200 posters on display, and through the artists, who responded to the open call from more than 20 countries.  

The exhibition will be on view by appointment at the Marygrove Conservancy (formerly Marygrove College) art gallery through Nov. 9. Detour chatted with Jackson about what makes a poster memorable, how design helps us process social justice issues and the posters that have stuck in her mind for decades. 

"American Racism" poster by Gonzalo Holtheuer of Chile. Courtesy DMJ Studio
“American Racism,” by Gonzalo Holtheuer of Chile. Courtesy DMJ Studio

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Detour: Can you tell me about the artists and themes represented in the show?

Donna Jackson: For “Posters on Politics,” there are over 200 pieces in the exhibit and over 20 countries represented. And theme-wise, they go across the gamut from climate change to women’s rights, and then you do see things that are focused on American politics, when it comes to our president or just what’s going on with the pandemic. I do see a lot about climate change. I do see a lot about systemic racism, and also a lot of posters on that thing that we all want, which is peace. You see a lot of that.

With social media and all sorts of free digital design tools, anyone can make a cool graphic. What are the ingredients that elevate a poster beyond something that disappears from your timeline and you forget about it?

There’s a saying that simple design is good design. And a lot of times, what we’re seeing are these simple things that we see everyday, that are put together in such a clever way that you go, “aha, I get that.” A lot of people think of campaign signs, like vote for this person or vote for that person, but this is really going inside and thinking about certain issues, and making the decision, how can I simplify this so that we can get it regardless of what country you’re from, regardless of your cultural background, or even where you stand politically.

You can’t do this with Canva. You really have to deeply understand what kind of message you are getting across and use the tools of graphic design to make that happen.

Posters on Politics poster "Remember Flint," by Keith Kitz of the U.S.
“Remember Flint,” by Keith Kitz of the U.S. Courtesy DMJ Studio

After a long day of reading election news, which I think a lot of people are doing right now, why come look at political posters? What role does art play in digesting what’s going on right now?

Well, posters themselves have been used for a long time as a medium for messaging, and definitely for political and propaganda purposes. I mean, you can go back hundreds of years for that. It’s this very simple, very accessible tool to get a message out.

When I started, it was an answer to a lot of people’s angst about what happened in 2016, and I thought, here’s this way of using a tool that’s accessible to allow people to see others’ thoughts about what was going on in their world, politically and in general. 

I know there’s so much going on with politics, why would someone want to go and see more political things? The exhibition is kind of a quieter space to really take it in, in a more creative and more thoughtful manner than how we’re taking it in with TV or social media.

Going back to before you became a designer, are there any posters that stand out in your memory as ones that inspired you?

Of course Rosie the Riveter, and still the poster with Uncle Sam, they’re these simple things that have become American icons that you still see today. And how much power those images have in our society and the fact that they still resonate today with us, in one way or another. 

Another poster, and this was from a movie, the “Malcolm X” poster, I still see it. It was so simple, just a big white X on a black background. That spoke to me, culturally, and what it said not just about the movie, but about that timeframe, that person, Blackness — that’s a poster that resonated with me. 

"I Can Make This Poster," by Wendy Murray of Australia. Courtesy DMJ Studio
“I Can Make This Poster,” by Wendy Murray of Australia. Courtesy DMJ Studio

Can you tell me a little bit about your work through DJN Studio outside of this exhibit?

My studio develops exhibitions and other types of art-focused projects, and we do them in some traditional, but also nontraditional, spaces. We really want to make art as accessible as possible in Metro Detroit and in Detroit, in our community. That’s the big part of this. The narratives that we tell, a lot of them are about Black folks, marginalized ones, or ones that aren’t told a lot that we feel are culturally important, or just important for people to know. 

This show was supposed to be local with just local designers. But you know, you put a call on social media and you can’t really control who sees it. It became more of an international exhibition, and I’m glad it did. 

“Posters on Politics” is on view through Nov. 9 at the Gallery of Art at Marygrove (4th Floor of the Liberal Art Building), located at 8425 W. McNichols St. in Detroit. You can make an appointment to see the exhibit between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. by emailing donna@dmjstudio.com at least 24 hours in advance. 

Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl