Protest! A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics – review

By Liz McQuiston

Published by White Lion Publishing ISBN: 9780711241299

Review by Derek Brazell

No-one can claim that they aren’t aware the world is in a state of unrest – crisis even. And that’s not just about coronavirus.

The shocking death of George Floyd, following on from many others such as Brionna Taylor (and now Rayshard Brooks), has led to huge protest across much of the world, and illustrations of Floyd’s face have been part of the many placards held aloft during demonstrations. Illustrations of both have appeared on social media.

So, Protest! A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics feels very contemporary, documenting as it does the imagery of protest from the social comment of the Reformation in the 1500’s to the civil rights movements. Also covering Women’s Liberation, AIDS, LGBTQ campaigns, Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, Pussy Riot and more from recent decades.

Through illustration, photography, collage graphics and typography, the visual aspects of protesting have connected activists and civilians for centuries, and with powerful uses of humour (always a good way to develop understanding), intelligent design and memorable slogans the examples McQuiston includes give a wide but detailed overview of how groups have made their protest visible.

Running chronologically, there’s a whole lot of information to take in, and McQuiston offers broad introductions to sections and moves on to more targeted information for each image reproduced in the book, giving enough background for readers to grasp the context and impact of the artwork.

An element that comes through strongly is the risks many of the creators took to make this work in the face of restrictions, authoritarian regimes and general hostility. There are many individuals who we should thank for making the unspoken visible and thought provoking. As McQuiston says in her introduction to these agitational images, they signify ‘an attempt to bring about change’. Something our divided world sorely needs right now, and this book could act as a catalyst for creative protests to come.

15th June 2020

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