Artists Statement

The 1970s and ’80s in Australia were an age of idealism and rage, of energy, optimism, activism, and dissent. This vigour and reactivity, which substantially changed people’s expectations and acceptance of parts of the status quo, were evidenced by the body of protest posters and artwork produced at the time.

This activism was instrumental in changing Australia’s societal expectations and view of some of its institutions. By common agreement and supported by social movements and protest art, progress was achieved in Aboriginal Land Rights, women’s rights, control of alcohol and tobacco advertising, the conclusion of the Vietnam War and the protection of workers’ rights. The tools used included posters, stickers, refacing of billboards, rapid response techniques, powerful graphic elements, and memorable taglines. Combined, protest art introduced a new kind of voice and narrative dialogue to a world used to one-way discourse.

The power of design aimed at activism lies in its ability to elevate local issues to universal ones and tap into a broader audience of potential participants to effect positive change.
Examples of this include the campaign to stop the dam at the Franklin River in Tasmania and the appeal to the Howard Government for an apology to First Nations people.

The Internet has been a great disruptor and amplifier for global activism when used correctly, but ethics must be carefully considered when harnessing new technologies such as AI. The issues facing the Left in the 21st Century are significant – the continued dominance of voracious transnational companies (even over national states), the climate crisis, religious intolerance, poverty, a resurgent Right, and the lack of economic and political freedom for most. There remains an urgent need to resurrect the energy and optimism of the 1970s, particularly in protest design. More contemporary tools must also be employed for the impact to be maximised.

Posters remain an effective tool in local areas. Larger issues are better tackled harnessing popular opinion in a targeted campaign on social media. However, powerful art and design can speak many languages: a poster can find a new life online, visually expressing the theme more simply and powerfully than mere words.

Both states and capitalist monopolies can be coerced into responding by a political or social movement channelling energy into an appropriate social media tool given the presence of a ‘free’ press to add comment.

Given the widespread contention across multiple political jurisdictions, it’s clear that the work of protest designers from earlier eras is still necessary. Protest design can generate dialogue where there was none before and can provide a platform for expressing powerful messages through pithy taglines. Additionally, a quick response can prevent the hardening of views and ensure that the message resonates with the intended audience. The path laid down by our forebears is a good one. For me, the protest work will draw from this to continue in new ways.

Michael Agzarian


View and download posters from our latest protest design collection, titled 'Solidarity With Palestine'.