New Days of Rage virtual exhibition shines light on historical LGBTQ+ posters

Curators from the University of Southern California collaborate with graphic designers to select and talk about protest posters from their archives for this fascinating exhibition.

Split screen of protest posters coming from the Days of Rage exhibition, with slogans such as

Displaying flyers with emboldened letters, paper cutouts, and striking images, the Days of Rage digital exhibition shows the power of xeroxing and visual design throughout the history of gay activism.

Six graphic designers have collaborated with the ONE Archives Foundation, the oldest active LGBTQ+ organisation in the US, to curate an online exhibition of posters from LGBTQ+ activist movements in the late 20th century. “Gay is angry”, “Show your outrage!”, and “Healthcare, not Deathcare” are just some of the slogans featured that came as a response to the Stonewall riots and the AIDS epidemic. 

The exhibition launched on April 13, organised by Andy Campbell, Associate Professor at the Univesity of Southern California (USC), and co-curated by Tracy Fenix and Austen Villacis, graduate students in Curatorial Practices and the Public Sphere program. 

Despite their knowledge in art curation, they invited graphic designers Alan Bell, Daniel Hyo Kim, Chandi Moore, Silas Munro, Judy Ornelas Sisneros, and Jordan Peimer to each select five of the 4,200 posters in the archive and connect them to their own experiences in queer activism. 

The designers include those present during the AIDS epidemic and younger artists involved in today’s LGBTQ+ activist movements. The project thus creates an active link between LGBTQ+ history and the contemporary art scene. 

To honour the theme of a multi-generational community, the exhibition is web-based, ensuring accessibility for people of all different backgrounds and circumstances.

“We’re hoping people read across these activists and designers that we invited and make connections between their experiences, the way they’re seeing the posters they chose, and the kinds of narratives or stories they tell,” said Campbell in an interview with Them.

“As we know, many queer people have the families that we’re born into, but also have the families we choose to make around us. It’s really about the process of community formation through graphic design — through activist design.” 

The website is organized by the artists’ selections and what the posters mean to them in their personal journeys. Notably, Alan Bell, one of the artists that witnessed the 1980s AIDS pandemic, reflects on his personal involvement with Sylvester, a singer and LGBTQ+ figurehead who appeared on a poster done by Ray Navarro.

“There’s this moment where Alan stops talking and is remembering not only this iconic cultural figure but someone who he knew and worked with directly,” said Campbell.

Days of Rage is not just a showcase of novelty vintage posters, but a heartfelt communication between the old and the new in a longstanding and enriched community. It seeks to honour the LGBTQ+ movements in the past but to also ignite a pursuit for change in future artists and activists. 

Visit the Days of Rage virtual exhibition on the ONE Archives Foundation site. 

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