“Get Up, Stand Up!” at MIMA in Brussels

The MIMA, the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art in Brussels, is currently showcasing the exhibition Get Up, Stand up! Drawing on a magnificent collection of protest posters it sheds light on how between 1969 and 1973 silk screen printing was responsible for a hey-day in protest posters.

Today the debate has gone online. Protests like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Je suis Charlie’ employ social media and the hashtag. "We have the impression that thanks to the internet ours is the global age, but this exhibition based on the impressive collection of protest posters belonging to Michaël Lallouche clearly shows that the protest movements of the Sixties and Seventies also had a global reach thanks to the protest poster" says MIMA's Raphaël Cruyt.

"When the first protests started in Paris in 1968 the lithography method of printing was used. It was expensive and complicated. Protesting students heard how in the US Andy Warhol was using silk screen printing to create art. Based on an ancient Chinese form of printing, silk screen printing is more readily suited to printing out on the street. It's cheaper too. In France the students went in search of the only guy in Paris who knew how the procedure worked and that set the ball rolling."

A lot was happening in the late Sixties and early Seventies. There was the student and worker revolt in France, the protests against the Vietnam War in the US and elsewhere. Activists form part of a global movement in society. The posters at MIMA show that the connectivity we attribute to the internet and social media was not new. Also in this period the whole world was connected and engaged.

There are several levels on which you can visit Get Up, Stand Up! It's exciting to see the graphic art produced in this period of silk screen do-it-yourself printing, but the posters also bear witness to history in the making as well as shedding light on the social struggle between 1968 and 1973.

We see how an old anarchist symbol, the fist, is once again embraced by protesters towards the end of the Sixties. It's employed as a symbol of protest against the system and the elite, but it can stand for every form of struggle, feminism, black and gay emancipation, but also the ecological and the social struggle.

Get Up Stand Up! draws on the private collection of Frenchman Michaël Lellouche. He's been collecting for two decades now and has built up an impressive global collection of over 1,600 items.

Posters on show include the very first print of the fist poster produced by the students at the ateliers des beaux arts in Paris in 1968.

100,000 people were in the streets but the protests were largely ignored on official radio and TV. Students and workers used posters made using silk screen printing to tell people what was happening. Posters provided an answer to the silence of the media. French President Charles de Gaulle was the first to mention the protests on air in a disparaging way, but this the students and workers turned against him.

The silk screen technology also had an impact on the aesthetics of the posters. Students would meet every morning to decide the topic that would feature on the following day's posters. All day projects were worked out and then a decision was taken on which poster would be mass produced. Posters that were too arty were rejected as too bourgeois. Artists preferred a rough style to ensure a better chance of their poster being selected. The canvas used in the printing was also sent on from one school to another. Everybody was in on the act, often with little experience. People were experimenting and using the material to hand meaning that the same image could be printed on a wealth of different types of paper and with widely varying printing quality.

Procedures and styles used in France were also adopted at Berkeley in the US and by London students.

The cop or policeman was the source of unending inspiration and he too gets a special wall at MIMA. In America the protests against the Vietnam War too inspire many. The killing of Vietnamese children and adults is the first target, but protests swiftly move on to the deaths of American soldiers and the draft. Finally the economic incentives of war become the target.

"War is over if you want it" is the iconic poster of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Illustrator Tomi Ungerer also got involved in the Vietnam protests but this certainly did not boost his career as an illustrator of children's books and finally he was booted out of the US. Until now the American flag had been a symbol of pride. This soon changes and it is used to denounce American atrocities.

Many of the graphic artists at work in the music industry too got involved in the production of protest posters. Don't miss the darkened section where posters illuminated by blacklight are shown to their best advantage.

The Black Panthers, involved in black emancipation in the US, made ready use of protest posters as did a wealth of activists targeting a whole array of debatable regimes. The Portuguese are taken to task for their bombing in Angola, the Colonels' Regime in Greece is a favourite target, while Chili's General Pinochet too features prominently.

Get Up Stand Up! runs at the MIMA in Brussels until 6 January. Free Wi-Fi is available at the museum allowing you to log onto the museum's website and listen to the stories behind no fewer than fifty posters on show.

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