Another Voice: Political Illustration from The Progressive Magazine, 1981-1999," currently showing at the Memphis College of Art, is combination art exhibit/comic strip/activism and a funny, horrible, hopeful look at the 20th century. It's curated by former Progressive art director Patrick JB Flynn, who gathered 154 political illustrations by 50 of today's best artists working in the genre.
Stephen Kroninger's savagely funny collage, War Baby, he attaches the deformed face of a soldier in goggles and helmet to a diapered baby's bottom. This man/baby is holding a nursing bottle emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo. This image is set in a pitch-black background that suggests a void that is as empty as the logic of maiming infants and men's psyches in order to make the world a safer place. But the Coke bottle serves as a cynical message that maiming is okay if it means a profit. In Holy Terror, a crucified Christ holds a recently fired high-powered rifle. Lying at the foot of the cross is a bloodied body, and behind the cross, a newspaper headline reads, "Sniper Kills Abortion Doctor in His Home."
Many of the illustrations are paired with quotes -- Noam Chomsky, Thomas Jefferson, and Frank Zappa all have their say. Roxanna Bikadoroff combines poet Marge Piercy's proclamation "I will choose what enters me, what becomes flesh of my flesh" with Eve (gouache, 1992), which depicts a woman with a muscular body and chiseled profile who firmly grasps Adam's rib in her right hand. Mark Fisher pairs Allen Ginsberg's 1997 challenge to "Stand up against governments, against God" with Blather, a collage filled with synonyms for the world's double-talk, such as tommy rot, twaddle, hogwash, yadda, and bunk.
The illustrations in this show are also timely. Refugee Status, Alain Pilon's 1994 watercolor of a woman with a cardboard suitcase seated on the bare floor in front of a wall smeared with red, still speaks for the millions of refugees displaced by warring factions and recent natural catastrophes. In Hadley Hooper's acrylic monoprint, The Poverty of Nationalism, the fist of an oppressor pushes the face of the oppressed against the ground. The two are chained together -- brutality collapsing in on themselves, destroying the humanity of both the victim and perpetrator.
Particularly relevant are Sue Coe's images of citizens as collateral damage. In War (Yugoslavia), Coe's depictions of a burned-out city, a bludgeoned Earth, and mutilated bodies are graphic, but the central figure is a dove. This pure-white icon of hope flies above the slaughter and, as part of its truth-telling about war, carries a jagged piece of barbed wire in its claws.
Works by Frances Jetter and Lawrence Carroll provide scenarios for what may come. Jetter's linoleum block print, Bombing the Innocent (formally titled End of the World), shows an apocalypse in which a pocked moon looks down with an expression of "shock and awe" on a planet deeply cratered not by meteors but by explosives. A single maimed body attests that this was once an Earth inhabited by humankind.
Carroll has two very different visions. In one image, USA Death Squads, nearly whited-out newspaper print backdrops an American flag and a decapitated head. In counterpoint is his graphite and acrylic photo collage, Martin Luther King Jr. "Watch this world, we only have one" is written in child's script above King's head. Across King's black suit are words from one of his speeches: "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."
King's beautiful words sum up "Another Voice." These words, these works, underscore the importance of having our say and making our mark while we still can.
Another Voice: Political Illustration From The Progressive Magazine, 1981-1999
At the Memphis College of Art through November 11th.