Letterform Archive has teamed up with Polymode, a black-led, LGBTQ+ and minority-owned studio, on an exhibition celebrating design that empowers communities and fights oppression.
On July 23rd 2022, Letterform Archive and Polymode revealed Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest, an exhibition featuring over 100 objects, including broadsides, buttons, signs, t-shirts, posters, and ephemera spanning the 1800s to today. Based in Letterform Archive’s new space at 2325 Third Street, Floor 4R, in the Dogpatch neighbourhood of San Francisco, the exhibition was curated by Silas Munro of Polymode and Stephen Coles of Letterform Archive.
Drawing from existing and newly acquired Letterform Archive collections, Munro and Coles initiated the project on the upswell of the Black Lives Matter protests. Their goal was to showcase typographic anger and agency as it is seen in the streets, on the printed page, and even on the bodies of demonstrators, via an eclectic, poignant and powerful collection of objects.
In sections exploring the many ways to voice dissent (VOTE!, RESIST!, LOVE!, TEACH!, and STRIKE!), the show charts a typographic chant of resistance across more than a century of protest graphics—ranging from nineteenth-century antislavery broadsides to the colourful affiches of the Paris 1968 uprising, from the revolutionary Black Panther newspaper to the public awareness posters of the AIDS crisis.
Strikethrough calls on us all to craft our own demands for social change. In the gallery, the work of trained professionals will sit alongside the raw creativity of activists and engaged citizens. Designers as protesters—and protesters as designers—rise from a wide range of racial, socioeconomic, and geographical backgrounds. Their letters are drawn, cut, painted, and printed. Messages are disseminated via the press, digital type, and augmented reality.
“We’re honoured to bear witness to the generations of protest typography that speak to social issues and resonate with our current moment,” says guest curator Silas Munro. “We’re also very inspired by the collective and collaborative process that Letterform Archive welcomes and supports for typographers, designers, and expanded audiences.”
With an introduction by Colette Gaiter, the hardcover exhibition catalogue tells the story of graphic design in protest with 250 images, including high-resolution reproductions from Letterform Archive’s collection, archival imagery of the art in action, informative historical features, and a contribution on type by Stephen Coles. Designed by Silas Munro, Brian Johnson, Michelle Lamb, and Randa Hadi of Polymode, it features custom typefaces by Tré Seals of Vocal Type and Ben Kiel and Jesse Ragan of XYZ Type.
Beyond Letterform Archive’s walls, Strikethrough also features a mobile app experience named Mariah, designed by Heather Snyder Quinn and Adam DelMarcelle and developed by Flor Salatino. The app challenges systems of power, making the invisible visible—using augmented reality, visitors can point their phone cameras at historical sites of protest across the San Francisco Bay Area to learn how they relate to objects in the show.
Perhaps most excitingly, to reach Letterform Archive’s global community, Strikethrough is also presented as a rich online exhibition designed by Chris Hamamoto, Jon Sueda, and Minkyoung Kim. Lectures, gallery tours, and other special events—both in-person and online—will accompany the exhibition throughout its run.