The art of the protest poster: New book documents feminist designs from the 1970s and ‘80s

“Don’t Let Racism Divide Us.” ‘So Long as Women Are Not Free, the People Are Not Free.” And, simply, “Protest.”

Poster slogans from the women’s marches in January? Actually, they’re slogans from a women’s art collective in the 1970s and ’80s. 

In 1974, three activists founded See Red Women’s Workshop, a feminist silkscreen poster collective in London. An ad in a radical feminist magazine called for female artists to come together and create posters that confronted media stereotypes.

"Girls Are Powerful," 1979.
"Girls Are Powerful," 1979. (See Red Women's Workshop)

“See Red Women’s Workshop: Feminist Posters 1974-1990” from Four Corners Books is a just-released book of protest artwork featuring 115 images — creative designs and styles that were silk-screened, stenciled, painted and more. (Margaret Thatcher appears often as a symbol of oppression.) Former members of the See Red workshop detail the collective’s history from its start to its closure, in 1990.

“We were all involved in different kinds of women’s liberation movements and felt very passionate,” artist and film professor Anne Robinson, who joined the collective in the early ’80s, said in an interview. She noted posters used in a 1968 student uprising in Paris were an inspiration, as was the 19-year nuclear weapons protest at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in England.

Planned long before last year’s Brexit vote and U.S. presidential election, the book is nonetheless timely with healthcare, reproductive rights and equal pay at the forefront of the discussion. 

“Our intentions were to empower anyone involved in campaigning against sexism and reproductive rights,” said Robinson, who was pleasantly surprised to see an updated version of one of the collective’s posters in a recent women’s march in London. 

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"Don't Let Racism Divide Us," 1978. (See Red Women's Workshop)
"Protest," 1973.
"Protest," 1973. (See Red Women's Workshop)
"Women Throw Off Our Double Burden," 1975.
"Women Throw Off Our Double Burden," 1975. (See Red Women's Workshop)

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