Show features 'Photographs and the Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglass'
By: Sonia Parecadan
Issue date: 2/21/08
Often painted as a subversive and violent organization by the media,
the now-defunct Black Panther Party never had the most positive image
in the eyes of mainstream society during its active years in the '60s
and '70s, said Billy X Jennings, a former Black Panther and curator
of the newest Memorial Union Art Gallery exhibit, "The Black Panther
Party Revisited." The event is co-sponsored by the African American
and African Studies Department in conjunction with Black History Month.
It's legacy had also not been fairly established for future
generations. Highly publicized court trials and controversies
involving founding members, such as the 1968 Huey Newton manslaughter
trial, overshadowed the positive change that the party was making in
its communities through education and social programs, he said.
"At the time, nobody - not the government - nobody was doing any of
the stuff we were doing - free food programs, medical clinics,
learning centers, a senior escort service - all kinds of things that
were free to the community," Jennings said. "It's funny because
thanks to our ideas, these have all become standard today."
The exhibit features the graphic art of former Black Panther Emory
Douglas and the photography of Ducho Dennis and Stephen Shames. Both
artists spent time with party members and chronicled their impact in
the community, for example, with photos of children at the party's
free breakfast program.
"Really, when people think about the party they think of the negative
stuff, the violence, images that the media portrayed," said Teresa
Montemayor, assistant director for programs and marketing for Campus
Union Programs and facilitator for the soft opening of the exhibition
which took place Friday. "One of the goals is to educate people with
the truth of who these people were, and these photos really bring
history alive and tell a story."
In addition to supporting the African American community through
social programs, one of the major goals of the party was to end
police brutality and other abuses by other government officials, Jennings said.
"At the time, the Bay Area was hiring police officers from the south,
Mississippi, Alabama - so what we were dealing with was racist folks
who were given a gun," Jennings said. "They were not out there to
protect us, so we had to protect ourselves."
In one of Emory's graphic arts pieces, he depicts a pig with a police
officer's clothing and badge - a metaphor, Jennings said, for anyone,
including politicians or public officials, who are given power but
act in a low, depraved manner.
Other pieces in Emory's set display the poor environmental conditions
that many African Americans in the past were subjected to because of
their poverty. For example, many of their houses were coated in
lead-based paint, and because of its sweet taste, many children would
consume paint chips and become ill.
"We had to fight against this stuff, so that kids weren't getting all
kinds of sicknesses," Jennings said. "These pictures were a
reflection of the way we [had] to live."
One of the major purposes of the exhibition, in Jennings' view, is to
expose students and young people to the struggles of earlier
generations. Too often, he said, today's youth take for granted what
has been made available to them by those who took action in the past.
"Kids today don't realize that their parents actually had to fight so
that today, college kids could study African American Studies and
Asian Studies and Chicano Studies in school," Jennings said. "These
things didn't just happen."
SONIA PARECADAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.