You may have seen San Francisco Poster Syndicate (SFPS) screen printing live and giving away free posters at political actions over the last several years. Women’s March, climate actions, March for our Lives, or at any of dozens of large scale protests during the Trump Administration – SFPS has been on the street since 2014. They have also been printing live at community events, art galleries, mural unveilings, and working in the background creating graphics in support of a wide range of organizations fighting for immigration, racial, climate and economic justice.
Monsters & Heroes represents two faces of the political graphics created by the loose-knit grouping of more than 100 artists and activists who make up SFPS. Together they have created over 450 poster designs. Many of these have been in collaboration with organizations including several unions, Coalition on Homelessness, Jobs with Justice, WRAP, Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Poor People’s Campaign, Seed the Vote and many others.
The artwork in this exhibition served a very particular moment. The life of these posters is sometimes very brief as the politics shift and memory for current events is short. Some posters make little sense after the heat of the moment. Others retain a relevance long past their intended expiration date. Hundreds of posters are passed out at some of the mass events, and the majority of those that survive might end up bleached out in a window or well-worn as a protest placard. These posters represent a fleeting glance back at our recent political moment.
The “heroes” in this exhibition are best represented by the 2019 portfolio Women of the Resistance, a collaboration with artists who also worked on a mural of the same name in Balmy Alley, in the Mission district. Inspiring hope through their examples, the women and girls depicted rose to prominence through their dedication to justice. These heroes include a wide spectrum from older generations to young activists, local to international figures—Johnetta Elzie, Naomi Wadler and Malala Yousafzai among others.
The “monsters” on the other hand are the forces against which the struggles for justice are waged. The monstrous element is seen in the poster Greed=Global Warming in which a deer’s head is transformed into a smoke spewing factory or in Sweeps Can Kill, which uses the skull and crossbones but with brooms crossed in place of bones. There are other posters emphasizing the overcoming of monsters. By attaching butterfly wings to a bomb in No War On Iran! the simple graphic suggests that bombs should be replaced by something positive. In …and Frighten the Evil Spirits Away the monsters are stereotypical nighttime terrors being repulsed by the act of voting.