Two anti-death penalty art exhibits will be on view simultaneously in Santa Monica. Dead Wrong: International Posters Against the Death Penalty and PreMeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment will open with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 30th, at Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Admission is free. The exhibits remain on display through Saturday, August 27th.
The Dead Wrong exhibit was organized by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, an educational and research archive that collects, preserves and exhibits graphics of social change. The center has a collection of about 50,000 post-World War II human rights and political protest posters. The upcoming exhibit will feature a collection of posters from numerous countries opposing the death penalty.
The posters in Dead Wrong illustrate numerous death penalty related issues, including the impact of racism, poverty and political beliefs on sentencing, according to the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Many of the posters were produced for the benefit of prisoners while they were in jail or on death row, and thus try to convey the urgency of the situations. Some of the posters are commemoratives, marking the deaths of historical prisoners whose guilt was debated, including the Haymarket martyrs, Sacco and Vanzetti, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Some are the focus of recent international campaigns, such as Mumia Abu Jamal, while others focus on lesser known cases. The majority of the posters attack capital punishment as uncivilized, inhumane and unjust, according the the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.
The Center for the Study of Political Graphics was started by activist Carol A. Wells. Wells came up with the concept while busy doing activist work against U.S. intervention in South America, and was especially inspired by the political posters she saw in Nicaragua during her trip there in 1981, she says.
“I saw how posters spoke to people,” says Wells. “I saw how art could be powerful in communicating to people about what’s going on in their lives now.”
Wells sees importance in the posters as an art form, a historical record and for the political messages they convey.
The posters shown at Track 16 Gallery are part of a larger upcoming exhibit, Prison Nation: Posters on the Prison Industrial Complex, which is set to premiere in the Spring of 2006 at the Watts Towers Art Center. The Center for the Study of Political Graphics puts on traveling shows with a focus on various activist topics that have included women’s issues and liberation theology, says Wells.
Many of the designs in the shows are done by relatively unknown artists while some are done by established names including Robbie Conal and Rupert Garcia.
The PreMeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment exhibit is a show of recent works by Malaquias Montoya. The exhibition features Montoya’s recently created silkscreen images and paintings, and related research dealing with the death penalty and penal institutions. Montoya says his work is inspired by the number of executions by the State of Texas in recent years. Montoya plans to give a speech during the opening reception. Also in conjunction with the exhibition, Montoya plans to host an evening discussion at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 20th, at the gallery.
“We have perfected the art of institutional killing to the degree that it has deadened our national, quintessentially human response to death,” Montoya says, explaining his take on capital punishment. “I wanted to produce a body of work depicting the horror of this act.”
Montoya is a known figure in the West Coast political Chicano graphic arts movement, a political and socially conscious movement that expresses itself primarily through the mass production of silk-screened posters. Montoya’s work includes acrylic paintings, murals, washes and drawings, but he is primarily known for his silkscreen prints, which have been exhibited internationally. He is credited as one of the founders of the “social serigraphy” movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960s. With his protest art, he seeks to depict the struggle and strength of humanity and the necessity to unite behind that struggle, according to Track 16 Gallery.
Since 1989, Montoya has been a professor at U.C. Davis. He has lectured and taught at a number of universities and colleges in the San Francisco Bay area, including Stanford, U.C. Berkeley and the California College of Arts.
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