Speakeast with - Black Panther Party artist Emory Douglas

Decades before Madison Avenue suits were defining the "look" of Obama's and McCain's presidential bids, Emory Douglas presided as the godfather of the Black Panther Party's visual identity. Douglas' posters, illustrations, flyers and other ephemera are instantly recognizable for the late-60s, power-to-the-people aesthetic they helped create. Douglas will be reviewing his work during the Party's Arts and Culture Conference at the Southwest Arts Center on Oct. 17.

Tell me a little bit about what you’ll be presenting.

It basically is being put together by the Southwest Arts Center and the former local Panther Boko, Brother Charles Freeman, who lives in Atlanta now. They are coordinating the whole show, but I will be doing a PowerPoint presentation, giving an historical background of the art and how it ties into the politics, the ideology, the philosophical perspectives of the Black Panther Party itself.

What work will you be covering?

It would be a lot of the work that was published in the book that came out about a year ago. It’s called Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, and it’s published by Rizzoli in a hard and paperback. I think they ran out of the hardback. It’s about 20, 25 pages. A lot of the images that are in that book I will talk about and take questions and answers and give my historical background, how I got involved with the Black Panther Party.

And how did you get involved in the Black Panther Party?

All this was in the Bay Area. We used to go out to San Francisco State University, because there used to be a lot of cultural activity. Amiri Baraka, then known as LeRoi Jones, Ed Bullins, Sonia Sanchez and many, many others were out there involved in the administrative aspect of work. And so they knew of my skills as an artist and they asked me to come to a meeting. ... Because of the turbulence of the time I wanted to do something like many other young people. I asked them then how could I get involved with the Black Panther Party. So I was one of those like many who respected civil rights but wasn’t into turning the other cheek.

Have you seen the reception of your work change over time?

Oh, yeah. Well, I had a major exhibit at MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, as a matter of fact, over a year ago, when the book first came out. And they had about 5,000 people come to that exhibit. And people who hadn’t come before to exhibits, a lot of community folks, activists, and other progressive folks. So it was well received. You may very well go to MOCA now and it still might pop up on their website.

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