In talking about his piece “Soy Humano/I Am Human,” graphic design student Christian Rafael Garcia recalled a story his grandfather told him. After experiencing discrimination as a migrant worker, his grandfather frustratingly turned to his tormentor and said, “I am a human and always will be, so treat me as such.”
Garcia said, “That [story] really resonated with me, and I wanted to use that as the voice for all immigrants, that they are humans and should be treated with the same amount of respect as every other human being.”
As the world was put on lockdown due to COVID-19, videos of the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin circulated the internet. They dominated national news coverage throughout the summer of 2020. As Fresno State convened the fall semester with mostly online learning, Department of Art, Design, and Art History Lecturer Glenn Terpstra and Assistant Professors Yasmin Rodriguez, Matt Hopson-Walker, and Virginia Patterson launched the Social Justice Poster Project as an online virtual experience for students and the community. The program culminated in a virtual exhibition in Spring 2021.
The project was conceived as an opportunity to engage students in collaborative art-making centered around social justice issues and civic discourse – to give students a platform to make art about the issues they care about while learning about the histories and relationships between social activism and art.
As students return to Fresno State this year, the Social Justice Poster Project programming has taken a hybrid approach. Programming included a series of lectures and demos related to free speech, printmaking methods, and the use of art in current and historical social movements.
Three guest artists engaged with students in lectures throughout the Spring semester. Each guest artist offered students histories, knowledge, and experiences from diverse backgrounds and artistic practices.
“Students could talk with the artists, but they also got to have insights into the design process,” said Terspra.
Bay area graphic designer and activist Sabiha Basrai gave the first lecture virtually on February 1. Basrai is the co-founder of Design Action Collective. This worker-owned co-op offers design and visual communications for progressive, non-profit and social change organizations, including work for well-known campaigns like Black Lives Matter.
Letterpress printer and self-described provocateur Amos Kennedy gave two virtual lectures on February 16 and 17. He is known for bold prints that are unafraid of uncomfortable questions around race, class and the rural American south. Kennedy’s work has been exhibited in prominent arts and cultural museums, and San Francisco’s Letterform Archive houses a collection of his prints.
Then on March 3, local graphic designer Karlo Muro engaged with students in person, sharing his ideas around narrative art, printed ephemera and art-making methods.
While not officially part of the program, students were able to find inspiration in the “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” exhibition from Jan. 24 through Feb. 18 in the Phebe Conley Gallery. Curated by Professor Emerita Elizabeth Resnick, Graphic Design with Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The art is distributed digitally, then printed and displayed by the venue. This allows the exhibition to be on display in multiple locations concurrently.
The culminating activity of the Social Justice Poster Project is the opportunity for students to design their social justice posters. Selected posters were reproduced and distributed to Fresno State students and the community in the form of poster packets.
“We gave students the opportunity for students to submit posters for us to review, critique and have conversations about which then led to poster packs,” Glenn Terpstra, interior design lecturer, said. “People can show up and take the art with them.”
The Social Justice Poster Project exhibition ran April 7-22 at M Street’s Graduate Arts Studios Gallery. A reception was held on Thursday, April 7, during Art Hop.
“What struck me as I entered the M Street gallery was how the students’ posters were in dialogue with one another, collectively crying out for viewers to care about issues of social justice that are both local and global, such as Ukraine,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “When I met Christian, and he told me the story of his grandfather, I was so moved thinking of his plight and realized how it brought to life what the ancient dramatist Terence, who had been a slave, wrote over 2000 years ago: ‘I am human and I consider nothing human alien to me.'”
Over 70 students participated in the Social Justice Poster project events and over twenty students designed posters for the exhibit. Eight of the student’s posters were chosen to be reproduced and distributed at the exhibition.