The Signs They Are A-Changin'
Issue #
127

Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960s to Now
Showing at Exit Art, 475 Tenth Avenue, through Nov. 22.

Signs of Change, a multimedia exhibit at Exit Art, surveys the artistic and cultural production that has accompanied social justice movements over the last 50 years. The focus of the show is an impressive collection of posters that span the globe and are accompanied by films, audio clips, t-shirts, photos, newspapers, zines, stickers and album covers. Instead of being strung into a timeline, the items are arranged along seven themes: Struggle for the Land; Agitate! Educate! Organize!; Forward to People’s Power; Freedom and Independence Now; Let it All Hang Out; Reclaim the Commons; and Globalization from Below. This grouping facilitates our understanding of the relationships between issues and looks at the cultures that are produced from all struggles.

In displaying the collection, the show gives no work of art more weight than another. Thus, the more traditional documents — the photographs, zines, documentaries and samples from the Melbourne Independent Media Center and other independent media sources — have no more pride of place than the art that also brings to light less familiar styles and forms of protest art. The t-shirts or the album cover of 1978’s Feeding the 5000, the punk band Crass’ first and best-known album from 1978, are as valuable in the exhibit’s thrust as documents of events, movements and cultures. Many of the objects, initially created with a utilitarian purpose, find a second life in the show.

The show was a result of a year’s work for the two curators, both part of Exit Art’s Curatorial Incubator Program: Dara Greenwald, who does collaborative work built around concepts related to social movements, and Josh MacPhee, a founding member of Justseeds, a radical art collective with a number of pieces in the show. The Curatorial Incubator Program was created to address “the emergence of a generation of young artists with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and aesthetics, who needed to be presented in a way that united artists with common concerns across disciplines … rather than isolating artists based on their identity,” according to Exit Art’s website. “Exit Art expanded its curatorial model to become an incubator for the careers of these young and emerging artists, a laboratory for the convergence and cross-pollination of different media, disciplines and audiences, and a key site for excavating the unwritten histories of contemporary art and culture.”

The show examines art that is both a tool of radical political movements and the inevitable result of the need to incorporate political critiques into daily life. It successfully situates current struggles and social justice cultures historically. The show also provides an important space in which to examine work that would otherwise go largely unnoticed. In addition, acting as a tool for both education and organizing, Exit Art complements the exhibition with film screenings, discussions and screen-printing workshops in collaboration with the Lower East Side Print Shop.

Exit Art is a 25-year-old nonprofit cultural center and art space. For a full schedule of events, discussions and film screenings visit exitart.org.