This week we’re going to look at the Wisconsin Workers’ Uprising poster created by Milwaukee-based artist Sue Simensky Bietila. Sue has long been creating art for social movements, starting in the 1960s working with the underground newspaper The Rat, up through the recent recount struggle in Wisconsin. Here’s what she has to say about her work and her poster:
Many of you may have seen some of my activist artwork, which I’ve been creating since the late 1960s, but to earn a living, I have worked as an Registered Nurse since 1972. For the past 7 years I have had the most worthwhile job in my 40-year career, as a School Nurse in Milwaukee high schools. I am in the union with the Milwaukee Public School teachers. In February 2011, when Gov. Walker implemented union-busting against public employees and class war against Wisconsin’s 99%, Milwaukee’s Public Schools were shut down and we all rushed with a passion to the demonstration at the Capitol in Madison.
I have always been an activist artist. I grew up working-class in a housing project in the outer reaches of Brooklyn, NY. I attended public schools and public universities. Much of my work, including my stories for World War 3 Illustrated, is both autobiographical and heavily researched, based on personal experience in social movements from the 60s student revolts, second wave Women’s Liberation, environmentalism, Indigenous rights, and now the working class’s battle against the 1%.
I had planned to do a Celebrate Peoples History poster for some years, but this time, I had artwork ready to adapt. I did an illustrated story for the 2011 issue of World War 3 Illustrated, “Wisconsin: Walk Like an Egyptian” and, for the first time, a full color inside cover, which I had posted on the Justseeds blog with the other Wisconsin downloadable posters. A full-color version of the poster was printed by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO and made into a greeting card as well and the image has gone far and wide. I made full color versions of 3 more of the full-page illustrations to include in art shows and am starting to hand-color some larger size silkscreen versions for upcoming labor-themed exhibitions.
I returned to Madison for all of the big demonstrations through winter 2011 and demonstrated in the Occupied Capitol together with my co-workers, neighbors and a good proportion of all the people I have known since I moved here in 1986. We now eagerly anticipate recalling Walker and his cronies in June, dumping the spearhead of the 1%‘s puppet politicians into the “dustbin of history” where they belongs. The call is out to RECLAIM WISCONSIN, and I collaborated on the poster for the March 10, 2012 rally with Carrie Worthen, who created the Big Blue Fist emblem.
I take my own photographs, but also use the web and library resources in my work. There are three stories about the Wisconsin Uprising in the Tahrir/Uprising issue of World War 3 illustrated as well as stories by artists who were part of the uprisings in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. You can also read more about my experiences in the 1960s and my analysis of the unique separation of art and politics in the U.S. in Allan Antliff’s book, Anarchy and Art.