The last few months here in Quebec have been tumultuous ones, with a massive student movement taking to the streets on a near daily basis to oppose tuition increases, and in doing so, giving birth to a ” Printemps érable” that is drawing the links between broader social justice struggles and a firm rejection of the logic of austerity economics.
These are inspiring and challenging times, and as the unrest causes the social and political landscape to change, so too has the visual landscape of the city. Montreal is seeing red, the colour of the student movement, with giant banners hung from balconies, red squares popping up on all surfaces, telephone poles wrapped in red cozies, and countless other creative interventions visualising solidarity with the students.
The images created for the movement by l’École de la montagne rouge, a collective formed of students from UQAM’s prestigious graphic design program, have been particularly striking. Provocative, visceral, experimental and poetic, they provide a visual voice to the demonstrations, and when all is said and done, I’m certain they will become an iconic part of Quebec’s design history.
More images can be seen on their inspiring image blog.
A parallel project, Fermaille, is a beautifully designed creative journal of the movement. Published weekly(!), it consists of poetry, writing and art, circulating the ideas of artists and students engaged in the movement. It’s inspiring to see and read so much creativity taking part in this struggle.
It has also been encouraging to see the re-emergence of graphics, images and slogans born of the anti-globalisation movement of the 90s and early 2000s, specifically those of the French activist/artist group Ne pas plier, who played a large role in the protests against the FTAA in Quebec City in 2001. It speaks to the continuity within our social movements, and graphic design’s role within them.
For my part, the events of the last few months, with Artivistic’s Promiscuous Infrastructures exhibition (which just closed) running alongside the social unrest, have caused me to rethink my practice in diverse ways. LOKi design has always maintained a parallel practice to my commercial endeavours, embedded in social justice struggles as an organiser and designer. How to best use my skills to better this world, while still managing to get by in our capitalist society, is a question that has been coming up more and more lately (not that I’ve ever stopped asking it). Answers are hard to come by…
In the present context though, through my various collectives, I’ve tried to garner further artistic support for the student movement. With Skol and Artivistic, on the 22nd of March, we successfully called for a 1-day strike of artist run centres. (My photos here)
Following up on this initiative, we’ve just launched an Open letter to the students, and a declaration of solidarity from artists. As of this writing we have over 400 signatories. If you’re an artist or cultural worker, please show your support and endorse the declaration by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the open letter:
As collectives composed in great part of people of colour, we are familiar with the repression that follows the exertion of a real, horizontal and direct democracy. We condemn the contemptuous and paternalistic attitude of the government and of university and cegep administrations who are hiding behind their judges, their police, private security guards, mainstream media and a minority of scabs. Like you, we know that it is their censorship, their intimidation, their sexist, classist and racist violence that incite more anger. You have the right to self-defense. Like you, we are not fooled by their tricks and dishonesty.
Your cause is a just one. Don’t listen to anyone other than yourselves and the people that you trust. Do what you need to. You have already changed your life and your relations with others. Your struggle is still in your hands. Continue to share it.
As the movement grows, state repression has become increasingly violent, as we bore witness to last night (big shoutouts to CUTV) with riot cops attacking a massive, peaceful crowd (this article from the Media Co-op provides great context to the events). I was among those tear-gassed and kettled, and my anger and resolve has never been stronger. As the situation escalates, I call on those that know me, to please show your solidarity with this movement, it is now more important than ever.
There’s much more to come, May 1st is right around the corner…
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