On October 13, 1970, Angela Davis was arrested in New York City by FBI agents. She soon became a global icon suggesting freedom, resilience, and the struggle for equality. Her image was used to illustrate many causes that sometimes had little to do with racial discrimination or the American Civil Rights movement.
Free Angela Davis posters
Those three posters are all derived from a single photograph: a portrait of Angela Davis by F. Joseph Crawford. They were all printed and released as part of various national movements in support of Angela Davis while she was imprisoned in the United States.
American Poster - Committee to free Angela Davis, 1970
Cuban poster by Félix Beltrán, 1971
A French “Free Angela” poster, 1971
1) Consider Crawford's photograph on the first poster. Among the list of adjectives below, which ones correspond to Angela Davis's posture and gaze? Shy - Proud - Pessimistic - Submissive - Defiant
2) The second poster was printed in Cuba. Beyong the American Civil Rights movement, what did Angela Davis symbolise for Cuba? Look at the colours used by Félix Beltrán. What do you think the red stands for? Beltrán declared he wanted to use the colours of the American flag, only there is no white in the image... What message was he trying to convey?
3) The third posters was printed in France. Why is it significant that it should be a black and white print? You will notice that Angela Davis looks more feminine and sophisticated in this poster (fuller lips, gentler curves, longer eyelashes, wearing a fur coat). Can you guess why the artist introduced these features? What movement or activism can you relate this to?
Shepard Fairey posters
Shepard Fairey has taken up the iconic image of Angela Davis in many of his designs. Here are three prints by the famous Los Angeles based street artist.
Angela Davis, 2005
Afrocentric Power and Equality, 2007
Angela Rough, 2005
1) In the third poster, what episode of Angela Davis's life does the grid pattern represent? What does it symbolise more generally?
2) Look at the two slogans on the second poster (power and equality / power to the people). What do they suggest about the evolution of Angela Davis's status as an icon? Who and/or what does she represent now?
3) Is it really essential to know about Angela Davis to understand these posters? Could Shepard Fairey have used another iconic face on those posters? Can you think of other important figures of history or popular culture whose image is often rooted out of its context?