In late 2012, former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party Emory Douglas met with Zapatistas and local artists in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The trip was initiated by Caleb Duarte from EDELO who describes the project as:
“A multimedia exploration of the artistic and political connections between the Black Panther Party and the Zapatista movements as incubated in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. To coincide with Emory Douglas’, the former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, residency in its space, EDELO (En Donde Era La ONU), a creative laboratory, will develop an art exhibition and single-issue newsletter. The exhibition will showcase pieces by local Zapatista artists and will explore their artistic identification with the Zapatista and Black Panther movements; the newsletter will pay homage to Douglas’ work in the Black Panthers’ popular press and will showcase new articles and artworks that will explore the connections between art and social movements as manifested in today’s multifaceted world.”
I was particularly interested in the newsletter they are creating and reached out Caleb to share more about the concept behind it. He sent the images above and writes:
“At the peak of its popularity in 1970, 139,000 copies of The Black Panther newsletter were distributed throughout the United States on a weekly basis. Within its pages, Emory Douglas, the movement’s Minister of Culture, published his artworks in an effort to “illustrate conditions that made revolution seem necessary; and… construct a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized.” The newsletter and its accompanying illustrations played a central role in the articulation of the “What We Want, What We Believe” portion of the Black Panther’s Ten Point Program
In 1994, the Zapatista uprising, a Mexican, indigenous movement originating in the southern state of Chiapas, generated and disseminated a different sort of mass communication made possible by the rise of the internet. Photographic, video, and written information regarding the movement’s actions spread around the world in real time, increasing awareness of the Zapatista cause while also building solidarity for what the New York Times termed “the first post-modern revolution.” Positioning itself as a struggle against neoliberalism waged against 500 years of oppression, Zapatismo has employed new technologies of information distribution in order to articulate their wants, beliefs, and various identities to themselves and to their global audience.
The Black Panther and the Zapatista movements occurred in distinct cultural, political, and historical milieus; nonetheless, the two share a common appreciation of the power of the image and the written word to build their respective social movements into personal, collective, transformative, and public experiences. In contrast to the strong self-definition established and disseminated by these two movements via pertinent media channels, today’s multimedia, plugged-in landscape seems to promote the opposite development.
Today we tweet, text, and browse through myriad contexts, occasionally gaining a glimpse into the exterior world but more frequently losing ourselves in the internet’s echo chamber of opinions and perspectives. ZAPANTERA NEGRA (ZPN) will be a single-run magazine of 20,000 full-color copies that will merge the powerful imagery and layout style of Emory Douglas with the visions and voices of Zapatista painters and embroidery collectives. It will bring the two similar movements together on the page to demonstrate their commonalities, tie the movements to the present, and articulate a new, collaborative, interdisciplinary mode of information distribution and political, social, and economic self-identification.
Emory Douglas, the former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, was in residency at EDELO in Chiapas, Mexico in November of 2012, then Dec- JAN 2013. During his time in Chiapas, he visited Zapatista communities and worked with Zapatista painters while simultaneously guiding a team of artists and editors in the layout and construction of ZPN. The newsletter will also include personal reflections authored by writers, academics, and artists on how art has moved and encouraged their own self-definition, work, and hope in a possible, better world.
This work is an attempt to highlight the positive and transformative roles art has played with in social, cultural, and revolutionary movements in promoting the possibilities of imagining other worlds. It is also a project that demonstrates how contemporary art practices side step between the traditionally, political, and conceptual performative works, from the ground up, with in communities of struggle, as opposed to contemporary “high” art practices taught by leading art institutions. This is a grass roots effort to bring together two very powerful visual and political social movements of our time. And in times of much revolutionary fever and economic insecurity, we feel it is important to share what Art can and has done to create change and break society’s notions of normality.