Friday, April 27, 2007

Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas: Sam Durant (editor) (Rizzoli) I recently used this space to note several of the better books I have read about the Black Panther Party. I gave particular attention to the recent photography collection by Stephen Shames. Since then this other, even more amazing book of Panther art has come to light. Emory Douglas was the heart of the revolutionary group first called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. His brilliant, outrageous, right-on drawings for the Black Panther newspaper spoke with more clarity than many thousands of words. He took the often difficult, vanguard ideology of Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seals and others and transformed them into startlingly direct and clear and bold images. His drawings and paintings were headshots on-target every time, a metaphor necessary and right. Douglas flawlessly captures the evils of white supremacy -- the slavery legacy leeching into the black ghettos of 20th America not the least beautiful. It is difficult to select any one or two of Emory Douglas’ pieces that best represents his greatness. There is one Black Panther: Black Community News Service cover that is particularly ferocious and true. On the September 27, 1969 issue: two of Douglas’ drooling ratmen are posed against an American flag backdrop. The ratman who is labeled “Nixon” is busy buttfucking the ratman labeled “Mitchell”. Mr. Attorney General rat has one paw against the flag for support. With his free paw he is handing an indictment of the Black Panthers “wanted dead for conspiracy of exposing America” to a very small ratman labeled “Daily.” With this superficially crude and profane drawing of the type one might expect to see on the men’s room wall, Douglas tells a complex story of political corruption and power misused. Years before the story of COINTELPRO came to light, the whole rotten enterprise is accurately depicted as pure legally defined obscenity. Elsewhere Douglas is subtle and poetic. A boy in loose pajama bottoms stands before a photograph of a young girl drinking from a cup. A single teardrop is at the corner of his eye. The caption reads: “my mother told me that we may be bare-footed and hungry, but that won’t stop our struggle for freedom.” The artwork within the pages of Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas stands the time test. I do not doubt the art of Andy Warhol will be admired, if not enjoyed, 100 years into the future. I am likewise certain that Warhol's contemporary, Emory Douglas will be considered an artist of equal quality, perhaps greater socio-cultural significance.


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