Politically active his whole life, Eric Joselyn is known among an extended community of activists as an invaluable resource. Rarely credited publicly, he is a prolific working artist who has been turning peoples’ demands and dreams into eye-catching (and conscience-catching) physical and visual expressions for decades. Without recognizing it, you may well have seen his work displayed street-side: at local demonstrations for immigrants’ rights, at antiwar protests, at street theater against racism. Thousands of Chinatown residents and allies fighting to stop the city from putting a stadium in Chinatown wore t-shirts Eric designed. He crafted many of the cardboard bulldozers, puppets, costumes, and signs that local people carried to City Council chambers to protest against the city’s use of eminent domain to displace poor and working families from their homes. Aiming to even the odds for social justice movements, his deceptively simple arts and crafts and good tools for popular struggles. The exhibition of Eric’s work (2006-2007) was accompanied by an article in our magazine. Following are labels that Eric wrote to accompany sections of the exhibition.
The works I’ve chosen to put in this show are suggestions for the kind of work I think more (most) of us should be doing. Most of this stuff is cheap, quick, clear, and pretty broad in its appeal. The best things here are the works that went into the hands of people struggling to better their lives and our world. We want to look good as we build a more just, loving, and fun society.
Who Said That?
A sure lot of this stuff is all me—my words, slogans, attitude. But a good part of this work is other people’s words. A group doing work asks for a particular slogan and tells me they need a shirt. Sometimes it’s a dialogue. Other times I’m simply told what to write. It’s the folks on the ground who know best.
It is a thrill to put some good looking items together and carry them personally into the street, but I have also found real pleasure in cranking out some posters at night, knowing others would carry them the next day at City Hall.
With cheap multiples in standard size, people can stop at a copy machine on the way to the demonstration and carry out attractive items for many.
TOOLS FOR GETTING OUT THE MESSAGE
Sometimes we all can use a reminder. Dozens of these were stuck up in West Philadelphia in 1992. It was scary how neatly they fit into the streetscape. (And scary how little attention was paid to anti-Asian violence). But since we are all so used to posted rules—let’s add some of our own. I love a homemade look, but stealing their layout gives our sentiments automatic authority—not all together a bad thing.
I silk-screened my first t-shirt in eighth grade, and I haven’t stopped since. A couple of designs have been sold through commercial catalogues, but a charm remains in sloshing the ink around and lifting up the screen from a sharp image.
Political discourse in the U.S. is pretty tamped down, pushed into narrow gullies. But hey, I figure people gotta wear clothes. Most people seem very ready to stick corporate images on their chests, so we’ve got to provide a handsome, intelligent, alternative.
The most fun is getting folks in on the actual printing. When everything is a commodity, folks lose sight of how stuff is made. Pressing the screen and pulling the squeegee never fails to brighten a kid’s eyes. Some of my fondest memories of organizing are street corner printing stations, where kids run home to grab any kind of cloth to print on—such a smile as they walk home carrying a pillowcase with a wet slogan.
Working with clay was my first artistic love, but I don’t do much these days — all those BTUs for one little bowl! However, I still long to make visible, everyday objects. These ideas left me looking at all those blue-on-white “Christmas 1987” keepsake plates hanging in the kitchens of my mother’s friends.
As for the topics, I often feel kinda stupid about history. Some of this is intellectual sloth, but a lot more is due to mis-education or systematic omission.
These plates help me show nuggets of people’s history (Seminole Wars) I’ve picked up, but they also record the absurd war dance the U.S. drums up with some regularity. Putting their death-logic inside a circle is in part an attempt to pull out the teeth from their bite. C’mon, ‘secure borders?” Give me a break.
The walls have always belonged to the people. Somewhere between my childhood and adulthood, all vertical public spaces were sold to advertisers. It won’t do to just get stamped. I want more of us to jump in and generate our own.
Most of the billboards in our neighborhoods are illegal as it is. Changing what we look at each day can be transformative for our neighborhood.
It’s pretty clear that if we’re out in the street we need a way to saywhy. The bread and butter of people’s movements is the banner —some big piece of cloth held aloft. Paint ’em, stitch ’em, give ’em.
Here are some examples of quick and easy techniques for those of us in a movement on a budget.
If one person can hold it up, and it’s more or less rigid, I call it a placard, the cousin of the banner.
Everybody loves a placard; it’s the preferred form of expression at any popular action. Folks just show up with a piece of stiff paper and a marker, and spell it out.
I have a fondness for the unique or elaborate placard, but there’s a real beauty in large numbers—a sea of shared message and color.
Handbills and Flyers
All these 8.5′ x 11′ copy art items come from the simple search for a way to create agit-prop that I could get out to manypeople. Not owning a major network hurt my efforts. I love making quilts, pots of clay, and fruit pies, but the one-at-a-time pace does not serve us well.
Displayed are some of the sets I’ve drawn, copied, and mailed across the land. I’ve mailed them out to activists and organizations, hoping they’ll be of use. My only rule is that I am sent copies of the flyers’ use in print.
“The internet is killing the newspaper.” Yeah, right. Been on Septa lately? Nearly everybody is reading something. So let’s keep busy: make ’em, circulate ’em, lay ’em out.
The paper still stands as an important voice. Our ideas, language and images have been so cut out of the big McPapers, that it’s a big charge to see ourselves in newsprint. It helps us recognize what we’re trying to do is important.
The periodical remains a good friend to our movements; let’s up the circulation.
INTERVENTIONS AND ACTIONS
Suits in the City
This summer , a friend organized a “Free-Trade Parade—The Suits Invade Center City.” My son and I joined the brigade of costumed artists wearing suits that transformed to expose the depth of our corporate culture. We went as Eminent Domain—a big nod to those fighting a land grab that’s kicking long-term residents to the curb.
The fortunetellers were passed out along the route. A little fun makes it easier for folks to read our ideas.
This exhibition was part of PFP’s 20th anniversary celebration. The Philadelphia Folklore Project is committed to paying attention to the experiences and traditions of “ordinary” people. We work to sustain the diverse folk arts of the greater Philadelphia region, build critical folk cultural knowledge, and create equitable processes and practices for nurturing local grassroots arts and humanities. We’re a 23-year old independent public folklife agency; annually, we offer exhibitions, concerts, workshops and assistance to artists and communities.