What do buttons, jumpsuits and flyers have in common? At San Francisco’s Letterform Archive, the answer is plain and simple: protest. This is where “Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest” resides — an exhibit filled with various mediums that tell the story of collective resistance and empowerment, spanning the activism of communities around the world. Here, one encounters a five-part narrative, taking visitors on a journey that documents time and culture in a way that defines a new meaning of resistance.
This multifaceted journey begins with “VOTE!” which authentically captures the fight for voting rights and justice in the democratic system. The most prominent piece in this section is a jumpsuit patterned with what resembles a brick wall; across the fabric reads words like “Bimbo” and “Slob.” Behind this is a photo of women lined up together wearing various versions of the suit, seeming to form a human wall. The use of fashion to construct a human wall against “xenophobia and misogyny” is certainly one of the most intriguing and unparagoned displays of protest in “Strikethrough.”
This theme of disobedience carries into “RESIST!” which is undoubtedly the most powerful and provocative part of the exhibition. Scattered throughout are unique and intriguing forms of typography, including fabric patches imbued with messages confronting class discrimination as well as an abolitionist poster from 1854. The wide array of typographic styles and messages unify in reinforcing the meaning of resistance, challenging observers to look directly at the bold and blatant statements presented.
This seems to be the essence of what “RESIST!” means to the creators of “Strikethrough” — a boldfaced rebuke against a myriad of societal transgressions. While some themes get lost in the sheer number of pieces scattered throughout the exhibition, the ones that catch viewers’ attention clearly demonstrate a strike through injustice. The daring attitude of “RESIST!” is somewhat tamed in favor of thought-provoking exploration in “TEACH!,” the next stop in the exhibition’s layout.
“TEACH!” slows the pace of “Strikethrough” nicely, with each piece demanding education and awareness, presenting materials that relentlessly inform their viewer. A large flag with the Kool-Aid man in the center immediately catches the eye but, upon further inspection, the piece becomes increasingly complex and captivating. The fabric has many symbols, from the Christian cross to the Apple logo, and is in fact a modernization of the Kanga — a typographic tradition that originated in Swahili coastal communities. The piece has an enigmatic quality which simply demands consideration.
The penultimate “STRIKE!” continues the tradition of protest beyond societal lines. By far the broadest category, it encompasses historic cornerstones of resistance and protest, such as the French Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout “STRIKE!,” flyers call for action through inaction, refusing to participate in systems of oppression. Mainly composed of poster-style pieces, “STRIKE!” is not quite as compelling as all that leads up to it, yet it still functions as an important piece in the puzzle that “Strikethrough” assembles. It effectively captures vital moments of defiance, highlighting them clearly and without convolution.
In many ways, the heart of “Strikethrough” is “LOVE!.” Mindfully placed and undoubtedly provocative, “LOVE!” is the perfect summation of all that “Strikethrough” strives to represent; that is, the use of printed material — everything from buttons to posters to flyers — to push society forward into a period of equality and love. However, it does not ignore ongoing societal struggles. The exhibit touches on the deadly mishandling of the AIDS epidemic, as well as the fight for interracial marriage and queer acceptance. Though the stories it tells are still developing, “LOVE!” remains the most hopeful of all the spaces in “Strikethrough.”
At its core, “Strikethrough” candidly explores the evolution of protests in order to reach some semblance of justice, and contains some weathered hope for what is to come.