The Celebrate People’s History posters are rooted in the do-it-yourself tradition of mass-produced and distributed political propaganda, but detourned to embody principles of democracy, inclusion, and group participation in the writing and interpretation of history. It’s rare today that a political poster is celebratory, and when it is, it almost always focuses on a small canon of male individuals: MLK, Ghandi, Che, or Mandela. Rather than create another exclusive set of heroes, I’ve generated a diverse set of posters that bring to life successful moments in the history of social justice struggles. To that end, I’ve asked artists and designers to find events, groups, and people who have moved forward the collective struggle of humanity to create a more equitable and just world. The posters tell stories from the subjective position of the artists, and are often the stories of underdogs, those written out of history. The goal of this project is not to tell a definitive history, but to suggest a new relationship to the past.
In the first decade of the project, CPH posters were pasted up in the streets of over a dozen cities. Each time I received emails from people wanting to know more. Our streets can be a venue for asking these questions, and the CPH posters played an active role in that (and might again!). Soon after the first poster was printed, educators began asking for posters for their classrooms. It’s been great to see the posters become part of curriculum, and to see lessons built around them. Once when giving a talk about CPH, I was approached by a student in training to become a teacher. She was first introduced to the posters when they hung in one of her grade school classrooms, almost a decade earlier. Now she intends to use them in her future classes. I hope that these posters can continue to act as some small corrective to the dominant narratives told in schools, and that more teachers engage students in alternative ways of understanding the past.
Today CPH posters grace the walls of dorm rooms, apartments, community centers, classrooms, and city streets. Over 165 different designs have been printed in the past twenty-five years, adding up to over 400,000 total posters. Although I’ve organized and funded these posters myself, they have always been a collective project. Over 150 artists, designers, and writers have created posters, multiple shops have done the printing, dozens of people have run around at night pasting them on the street, and hundreds have helped distribute them around the world.
The Celebrate People’s History Poster Series has been organized and curated by Josh MacPhee since 1998.