Avant Garde

David Alfaro Siquieros, in a lecture delivered at the Museum of Fine Art, Caracas, Venezuela, January 11, 1960:

“Of late the Mexican government, under pressure from ourselves, has been obliged to censure the use which the Organisation of American States, with its official seat in Washington, has made of the money which it receives from the countries of America it has used these funds to propagate the abstract trends in art and to combat the public art of the Mexican art movement. What right has it to do this? If it were to use its money to propagate realist art, the Abstract painters would have full rights to complain. The OAS has no right to interfere in our aesthetic affairs, or in our national politics. It is very significant that at this time no figurative artist of the social revolutionary trend has been invited to exhibit his works in the United States. Is it not extraordinary that the Museum of Modern Art in New York has seen fit to eliminate these painters from their publications? It is obvious that imperialism prefers an art which is deaf and dumb, an art which says nothing, hears nothing, and even sees nothing. But this does not mean that we deny the right of any painter to experiment in any way he likes. He has the right to do this and the right to defend his principles and his point of view in public; but he does not have the right to help the forces of reaction to drown out the voices of those of us who do want to say something with out painting, or to join those forces in shutting our mouths by taking away our liberties. What are we fighting for at this present time? Are the abstract artists, the non-figurative artists, fighting for the freedom of expression? It is we, the figurative artists who have ideological links with our people, who are fighting for this.”

Found in Art and Revolution, David Alfaro Siquieros (Lawrence and Wishart: London, 1975.) Translated by Sylvia Calles.

I knew the CIA had touted abstract art over social realism in the U.S. and Europe, but I didn’t know the OAS was involved.

Update: Reader Pilar notes that Siquieros was jailed after delivering this speech. He spent four years in a prison in Lecumberri. It was his longest sentence and also his last.

Two related blog posts:

>  21 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,

Delerious Beijing

You’re a architect who finally has a chance to build a masterpiece. For years, you’ve built your reputation publishing your theories and experimental models. But now you have a chance to really build it right. You get a big budget and creative control — and no need to worry about urban planning, sustainability, accessibility, community input, or those annoying environmental impact assessments. Existing homes and residents in the way? Not a problem. And plenty of cheap labor, too — let the client take care of that union stuff. Yep, it’s finally your big, big chance.

Except, the client is a repressive government.

Via, I found this interview with Rem Koolhaas at Icon magazine.

koolhaas_cctv.jpgRem seems to have a fine model going — mixing research, theory, and practice. But to design the center for state television in China? The chief propaganda outlet in a country that heavily censors its media? And imprisons and tortures its people for speaking out?

It sounds more like opportunism than constructive engagement.

Beijing is one of the densest cities in the world, and hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for new construction — much of it related to the 2008 Olympics. Developers literally send gangs of thugs into old neighborhoods to beat up elderly people and get them out. Risking arrest and prison, thousands of evicted families are protesting how they can: petitioning government officials, posting anonymously on the Internet, and in a last desperate effort, even setting themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square.

But Rem is not alone. Big name architects like Raimund Abraham, Zaha Hadid, Paul Andreu, Norman Foster, Michael Graves, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are also taking advantage of China’s construction boom.

Like much of the party leadership in the former Soviet Union, much of China’s ruling elite have a background in engineering, giving extra caché to massive projects like the three gorges dam and the space program.

From Time Magazine, May 2004:

“Detractors cite the $730 million CCTV project as the ultimate example of the Chinese regime’s tendency to plunder state coffers to glorify its own iron authority and say Koolhaas is an opportunist taking advantage of the country’s unique combination of state power and state capital to realize his own artistic ambitions. Ian Buruma, a writer who is a friend of Koolhaas, wondered aloud in the Guardian, a British newspaper, how the world would have reacted if an architect of Koolhaas’ stature had in the 1970s designed a TV station for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

But Koolhaas, 59, who was one of the first Western architects to study and write about China’s urban explosion, revels in such intellectual tussles. CCTV, he insists, like the mainland itself, ‘is in mutation’ and the building represents an effort to complement the state-owned company’s desire to keep pace with the times. CCTV’s current headquarters is completely closed to the public. Koolhaas’ design, in contrast, includes a public ‘media park’ in and around the base of the building intended to foster more interaction between commissars and the masses. ‘We are engaged,’ he says, ‘with an effort to support within [China’s] current situation the forces that we think are progressive and well-intentioned... We’ve given them a building that will allow them to mutate.’”

Indeed, how people do mutate.

>  28 July 2004 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Impressions of Designs on Democracy

From March 26-28, I attended the Designs on Democracy conference on the UC Berekely Campus. I’ve been meaning to write up my impressions but have found it difficult to put words to those three incredible, densely-packed days of presentations, meetings, networking, and solidarity. Where to begin?

From the Bay Area Indymedia center:

“Designs on Democracy was a three day conference on design, advertising, public relations and marketing for social change.... The conference was organized by a crew of eight activists. Forty volunteers did the work that made it happen for the 350 who attended. Designs on Democracy, said Favianna Rodriguez, one of the organizers: ‘is not just for designers, it’s for people who are in the business of doing marketing and selling the image of the Left, to take it to a broader audience and make it more appealing.’”

Designs on DemocracyThey’ve already posted two pages of notes and several audio files of the conference sessions in Ogg Vorbis format. More audio, video, and documentation is on the way.

The organizers from Tumi’s Design, the Ruckus Society, the Design Action collective, and Change the Game did an amazing job, clocking in months of preparation. The speakers, attendees, and volunteer tech crew were also incredibly flexible and generous.

The sumptuous, donated food also merits special mention, particularly from the Sankofa Kitchen Project, a black, vegan cooking collective in Oakland. The project is part of the East Side Arts Alliance and works with youth to build community gardens, teaches them how to grow and cook their own food, and promotes traditional cuisine, community spirit, and good nutrition — in part a response to the cheap, corporate, fast food crap showered on poor, urban neighborhoods.

Participants arrived from a range of organizations and backgrounds. Some were designers, organizers, techies, printers, media workers. Some from unions, others working on prisons, environmental justice, or genetically modified foods. Some worked in advertising, others on access, training, media justice, or getting out the vote. Some were just designers looking for a way to do more.

Some were veterans, active since the 1960’s, others just fresh out of school. Some owned their own businesses, some worked in collectives or in non-profits, and still others were freelance.

And, where other events of its kind might have fractured into quarrelling ideological factions, here there was common cause: Bush must go.

Many of the conference sessions focused on messaging, narrative, and framing to communicate effectively, move “the middle,” and build a stronger movement for social justice. The list of sessions and speakers makes for interesting reading.

I gravitated towards the more practical sessions, on fund raising and organizational structures. I won’t go into detail about individual sessions — will post more of my notes here soon — but here are a few other impressions and tidbits:

  • Several speakers addressed the importance of focus groups and research, and within that the notion of using different messages for different cultural groups. An easy way to recruit for focus groups is to advertise on craigslist. (Offering pizza helps.)

  • Favianna and the staff of Tumi’s see themselves within a tradition of radical graphic work in the Americas and on the West Coast: Siquieros, Rivera and the muralists of the Mexican revolution, artists and writers in Chile who created culture of resistance, the independent publishing of the Black Panther Party, the Chicano movement of the 70’s and their work with the United Farmworkers. Like the Young Lords, the Native American Movement, and the BPP, Tumi’s program is to serve the people. “Without the movement, without the grass roots, graphics work is not revolutionary.”

  • Only one member of Congress has a child serving in the war.

  • In the U.S., you can buy voter registration lists. It’s not cheap, but it is public information. You can cross reference the data with your membership list or demographic information to more effectively market to voters.

  • If you’re an unaffiliated designer with a project idea and you want to raise funds, consider finding a non-profit organization willing to act as a fiscal sponsor. You can arrange for tax-deductible donations or foundation support through them, in exchange for a small percentage of the proceeds.

One topic of discussion that was missing from the conference was information design and mapping. This is not just marketing, but using design for analysis and making data accessible. See, for instance, the 2000 Palm Beach County ballot design.

In addition to meeting many new people, I had the chance to meet several people I’d previously known only online including Jason Justice, founder of the Graphic Alliance, an electronic network of progressive designers, and Alex Steffen of the community Web log It was also great to reconnect with a couple of folks I’d met at the Ruckus Tech Tools Action Camp in 2002.

Overall, the air crackled with excitement and energy. It was nice to recharge, to find out everyone was doing, and to find among them a progressive community of designers. Many, including myself, didn’t want this to end with the conference itself.

So what’s next? Another one in a couple of years? Perhaps local or regional conferences? An international federation of progressive designers? For now, a database of resources is in the works and will eventually be posted on the site. Watch this space for more.

>  12 April 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Camp Five

From The Miami Herald, August 24, 2003:

Growth at base shows firm stand on military detention

Twenty months after it opened as a short-term solution early in America’s war on terrorism, this much-criticized military detention and interrogation camp is evolving from wire mesh to concrete.

The hastily erected Camp Delta for ‘enemy combatants’ will make a significant leap toward permanence with a previously undisclosed fifth phase that will be hard-sided and take a year to build, The Herald has learned.

Workers are also retrofitting a makeshift courtroom in case some of the 660 detainees from 42 countries, most of them suspected al Qaeda members or Taliban soldiers captured in Afghanistan, are tried before a military commission.

The developments suggest that the Bush administration is literally pouring concrete around its controversial policy of indefinitely holding alleged terrorists and supporters in legal limbo, without prisoner-of-war rights.

‘[This] should exist as long as the global war on terrorism is ongoing if it helps our nation and our allies win,’ said camp commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller. ‘We are exceptionally good at developing intelligence that will help defeat the scourge of terrorism.’

Many legal scholars and human rights groups continue to argue that the policy unnecessarily bends U.S. law and undermines the stability of the Geneva Conventions when instead the existing legal system could be modified to meet intelligence security needs.

But calls to change the approach seem increasingly moot as workers throw up ever more durable structures, also including dormitory housing for 2,000 soldiers here.

The new ‘Camp Five’ will take three times longer to build than the four existing camps, which are made from wire mesh and metal atop concrete slabs, with chain-link fences and wood towers.

‘It is a hard-sided concrete building,’ Miller said. ‘Unfortunately, we have to ship everything into Guantánamo Bay by sea, and it takes time to get the materials down here.’


The contractor is Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, Texas-based Halliburton. The watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says the subsidiary received $1.3 billion in government business last year — much of it, like this, without having to enter a bid.

Halliburton referred questions to Navy public affairs officer John Peters, who said via e-mail that Camp Five will have about 24,000 square feet when completed in mid-2004. It was part of a $25 million task order issued June 6.

Miller said it will increase Camp Delta’s detainee capacity by 100, to 1,100, but its main purpose will be ‘an enlargement of our ability to do interrogations’ — now conducted in trailers at the camp’s edge.

Told of the development, Wendy Patten of Human Rights Watch wondered about the implication of an interrogation facility that included cells.

‘It’s interesting they chose to frame it as an interrogation facility,’ Patten said. ‘Does it become the camp to house the people who are the subject of the more intensive interrogations, or whose cooperation they haven’t been able to obtain?’

Patten also said the news of ‘a commitment to a level of permanence we haven’t seen up to now’ likely means that analysis of detainee releases has been wrong. Some commentators have said the military may have decided to draw down the numbers held here.

Sixty-four have been released and four transferred to Saudi Arabia for continued detention, said Maj. John Smith, a military spokesman.


Yale Law School professor Harold Koh, who represented Cuban and Haitian migrants at the Guantánamo base in 1994-95, said by phone that the construction means ‘we are just getting further and further in’ to an alternative justice system outside the rule of law and unauthorized by Congress.

‘If everyone thought about where this is leading us, they might have doubts about whether this is where we want to go,’ Koh said. ‘We have set up an offshore prison camp in an extrajudicial zone where people have no rights, and we assume no one is going to follow our lead....’

For example, he noted, Indonesia is now building an island detention camp for alleged rebels.


President Bush has named six detainees eligible for trial. None has been charged.

Should the military commission trials go forward, those at Guantánamo would take place in a former control tower once slated for demolition. Its airstrip was left unusably pitted by tents during the last rafter crisis.

Formerly known as ‘the Pink Palace,’ the humble headquarters annex has been repainted yellow in anticipation of intense global scrutiny.

Its windows are blocked, but Smith said the inside has a traditional layout and cherrywood furniture. There has been no order to build an execution chamber, Miller said.

Across the bay, a new media center with 22 Internet ports and two plasma television sets is nearly complete. Smith said that a pool of reporters would be allowed into the commission chamber and that others would watch via closed-circuit TV.

The base can house 174 visiting reporters, diplomats, officials and others in the event of trials. But the numbers may not be swelled much by civilian defense attorneys, who can volunteer to assist the assigned military defense counsel at their own expense.


The National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys has said it would be ‘unethical’ to appear under rules that allow monitoring of attorneys’ conversations with clients and retrials for acquitted defendants.

The American Bar Association has also expressed reservations, singling out a rule that bars civilian lawyers from seeing classified evidence even though they are required to obtain top-secret clearance.

Left unanswered is what will become of those against whom there is insufficient evidence for trial but who may be deemed too dangerous to free.”

See this previous blog entry on Camp Delta.

Found via probelog

>  15 September 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Dell Stops Using Prison Labor

Recycling KeyThis just in: yesterday Dell Computer announced it will use two new vendors for its electronics recycling, and will stop using a vendor that relies on prison labor. Congratulations to the many individuals and organizations involved in the campaign urging Dell to do just that. Just last week, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released a report on the recycling processes used by Hewlett-Packard and Dell. The report contrasts the primative conditions and toxicity of Dell’s contractor, UNICOR, with the efficiency and safety of Hewlett-Packard’s vendor, Micro Metallics. The UNICOR facility is a maximum-security federal prison. The Micro Metallics facility is staffed by union workers paid a living wage.

A Dell spokesman denied that the decision was the result of public pressure, claiming both the decision to use UNICOR and the decision to drop it were based entirely on cost. UNICOR is a corporation run by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons.

See this previous blog entry on the campaign.

>  4 July 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Dell: Recycling with Prison Labor

The Computer TakeBack Campaign is protecting America’s public health by promoting corporate accountability for electronic waste.

Tens of million of computers become obsolete every year and less than 10% are collected for recycling, with the rest of them stored in homes and offices, disposed in landfills and burned in incinerators, and shipped to poor countries for dismantling under horrific conditions. Newer, faster, smaller, and cheaper products hit the market every day - all of them toxic, most of them designed for disposal rather than reuse and recycling, and, once obsolete, are ignored by the very companies that profit from short life-spans and cheap design.

Currently, the expense of collecting and managing discarded electronics is borne by taxpayer-funded government programs. Public policy and corporate practice have failed to promote producer take back and clean design. The principle of producer take-back shifts the burden for collection and recycling costs off of taxpayers and government to the producers, providing an incentive for companies to market products that are durable, less-toxic, and recyclable....

The Computer TakeBack Campaign was formed to promote clean design and brand owner responsibility for discarded computers and electronics.”

The campaign was launched on November 27, 2001 with the release of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s 3rd Annual Computer Report Card. The annual report measures the environmental qualities of electronic equipment and the environmental performance of companies. The report noted that several major U.S. computer companies ran TakeBack programs in Europe, but not in the United States.

Dell was singled out as the focus for the first major campaign. Dell has the largest share of the U.S. and global personal computer market, and are the leading seller of computers to institutions. The Computer TakeBack Campaign is also targeting Dell “because the company’s sales and distribution model uniquely positions it to establish an effective national take back system for used and discarded products.”

After a long campaign and a much public pressure, on March 19, 2003, Dell announced it’s new curbside recycling program. As of March 25, consumers in the continental U.S. could “order home pickup of unwanted notebooks, desktops, monitors, and other select computer equipment for $15 per unit.”

Dell, however, is using prison labor to do the dirty work of recycling its electronics.

A friend of laughingmeme writes:

  • Dell still contracting with prison labor to do recycling... prison labor is a low-road solution which relies on ‘high tech chain gangs’ and thwarts the development of a legitimate recycling infrastructure... and prison laborers are handling toxic computers and OSHA standards are not enforced as they should be
  • Dell still charging a fee at the back-end (instead of implicit in purchase price) for the pick-up, which is a disincentive for participation
  • Dell not reporting on goals or setting timeframes/goals for recovery
  • Dell not aggressively advertising program (they launched the program the week we went to war!)
  • Dell not commenting/committing to phasing out the toxins in their products
  • Dell partnering with a charity, but what will eventually happens to the computers? — they way they are designed now they all become obsolete at some point
  • [As of mid-March] Dell has recovered only 1,000 machines in the last six months which is really pathetic. (they actually started taking back computers from consumers in sept, but are just now expanding the program to include home pick-up)

According to this fact sheet: prison labor is not protected by federal safety and health standards, nor is it covered by National Labor Relations Board policies. Financial support for this U.S. prison-industrial complex steals tax dollars from public education and environmental protection programs and kills private sector development in electronic recycling.

Prisoners should be able to develop occupational and educational skills, not forced to do dangerous, toxic work because companies can get away with it. Investing in prison labor also reinforces incarceration as a solution social, political, and economic problems.

Find out more, and what you can do.

Update: On July 3, 2003, Dell announced that it will stop using a vendor that relies on prison labor for its electronics recycling.

>  18 May 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Publish or Perish

How an Atheist Helps Protect Islamists in Turkey,” The New York Times, November 26, 2002:

“In 1995, [Turkish publisher Sanar] Yurdatapan’s activism took the turn that came to define it: It began when Yasar Kemal, one of Turkey’s most famous writers, was charged under antiterrorism laws for writing an article against the war in Kurdish areas.

In protest, 1,080 well-known people signed their names [as co-publishers] in a book that republished Mr. Kemal’s article and nine other banned articles. They then demanded that they all be prosecuted because it was also a crime to reprint banned articles.

Mr. Yurdatapan’s orchestration of the book put the Turkish state in an awkward position, having to suspend sentences or change the laws to avoid arresting everyone. In 1999, however, he received a two-month sentence....

With little money and a tenuous legal status — his group, Initiative for Freedom of Expression, exists only on the law’s margins — Mr. Yurdatapan keeps up his work: 4 books and over 40 pamphlets have been published.

In 2000, he took up the case of Islamic activists, including the nation’s only Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, who has been banned from political life since the army’s ouster of his government in 1997 and whose party was victorious in the recent elections.”

The February 3, 2000 Kurdish Observer reports that Sanar, a civilian, was sentenced by a military court to two months in prison for “making publication to lose people’s enthusiasm for the military service.”

Sanar became well-known as a composer, songwriter, and advocate for free expression in the 1970’s. From Human Rights Watch:

“Sanar Yurdatapan was stripped of his citizenship by the military junta that seized power in Turkey in 1980. He lived in exile from 1980 until 1992. The military handed back power to a civilian government in 1984, but they have kept public discussion of certain issues off limits, particularly criticism of state institutions (especially the military) and the role of ethnicity or religion in politics.”

He has also worked on prison conditions, the right to conscientious objection to military service, and exposed the Turkish military’s massacre of Kurds. The Times again:

“[In the summer of 2002], as part of its bid to join the European Union, Turkey passed several laws easing freedom of expression. Mr. Yurdatapan says the atmosphere is improving, though not enough for him to end his work.”

More publishing than design, the 1995 action is such an elegant act of civil disobedience, a grand mockery of Turkish censorship law.

>  12 May 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Incarcerated America

“More than two million men and women are now behind bars in the United States. The country that holds itself out as the ‘land of freedom’ incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country....

Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national ‘war on drugs.’ The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.

Even more troubling than the absolute number of persons in jail or prison is the extent to which those men and women are African-American. Although blacks account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, 44 percent of all prisoners in the United States are black.

Map of U.S. incarceration.Census data for 2000, which included a count of the number and race of all individuals incarcerated in the United States, reveals the dramatic racial disproportion of the incarcerated population in each state: the proportion of blacks in prison populations exceeds the proportion among state residents in every single state. In twenty states, the percent of blacks incarcerated is at least five times greater than their share of resident population.”

Some experiments with GIS turned into a redesign of this Human Rights Watch backgrounder. Interesting to note the regional clusters that emerged from dumping various metrics into a spatial layout. Download the PDF here (192 Kb).

>  30 April 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Call for Submissions: Prison Families Community Forum

Prison Families Community Forum Launches Campaign to Fight Inmate Telecom Injustices In New York State

Prison PhonesThe Prison Families Community Forum needs visual art work! Prison Families Community Forum is a growing network of families directly affected by incarceration in New York State. We are part of a Brooklyn-based non-profit community development organization and are mobilizing families of NYS prisoners to fight the exploitative and dehumanizing practices of New York State, the Department of Corrections and MCI. To keep in contact with loved ones inside, families are forced to absorb charges up to 68% more than anyone else in NYS pays for a collect phone call, a kickback to the state.

We are looking for intense, compelling and even graphic visuals that speak to the hardships faced by families and communities of the incarcerated. Your work will be used for public education, direct action campaign materials, and other forms of print and electronic media, and will help our families more effectively communicate our calls for justice.

Please call for specific details on images which would be most useful. Any visuals representing the injustices of prison are welcome. Artwork may be submitted as JPEGs, prints, or slides and may be sent via email as an attached file and/or via snail mail to the address below.

Please submit art to:

Kym Clark
Criminal Justice Organizer
Developing Justice
c/o Fifth Avenue Committee
141 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217
718/857 -2990 x41
kclark -at- fifthave -dot- org

>  15 April 2003 | LINK | Filed in ,

Stop Bankrolling Bulldozers

Video still from Citibank ad

Undermining labor, devastating the envrionment, preying on inner cities, profiting from prisons, and backing biotech companies like Monsanto, Citibank is the target of a new TV spot and campaign by the Rainforest Action Network.

In the commercial, Ali MacGraw, Ed Asner, Darryl Hannah and Susan Sarandon read the names of some of the of thousands of people who have cut up their Citi cards to protest the financial giant’s practice of using its customers’ dollars to fund the world’s most environmentally destructive projects.

>  9 April 2003 | LINK | Filed in ,

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