Paper Trail

Curated by Nancy Zastudil and Julia Hamilton

Paper Trail is an exhibition of historical and contemporary ephemeral material originally produced by disparate communities using remarkably similar forms of rhetoric and graphic styles to visually articulate their collective revolutionary agendas and concerns.

The historical material was created, produced, and distributed in the late 1960s by Chicago’s original Rainbow Coalition, an alliance between The Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Organization, Young Patriots, and Rising Up Angry. This material is presented “in conversation” with what could be considered its contemporary counterpart – visual reproductions of the Barack Obama presidential campaign, language of the newly formed Rainbow Coalition Council of Elders, and publications from other contemporary initiatives in Chicago and beyond that re-engaged with the principal of grassroots political organizing and cross-cultural solidarity. The movements share a common idea that despite our dire collective circumstances, a spirit of hope and optimism can result and act as a unifying, mobilizing force.

Of interest both for its artistic content and its historical connotations, the Rainbow Coalition material presented in Paper Trail serves a purpose more contextualizing than nostalgic in its juxtaposition with the more contemporary displays. As curators Nancy Zastudil and Julia Hamilton wrote:

“The exhibition provides a snapshot of U.S. underground militant media in its heyday, when it was not only the most effective way of disseminating information, but also a vehicle to usher in an exciting renaissance of creativity. As the colorful graphics of the Chicago Seed and Emory Douglas’s illustrations in the Black Community News Service suggest, conscious attention to the mechanisms of advertising helped create strong visual metaphors and allowed the publications to be an active central location of the resistance struggle. The bold graphics gave life to ideas that were too radical for the ‘real world.’ For example, equating the caricature of ‘the pig’ with an image of a cop allowed those being oppressed to exercise symbolic power over the authorities.”

This exhibition was organized by Zastudil and Hamilton, with the support and participation of Kathleen Cleaver, Michael James, Bill Jennings, Cha Cha Jimenez, Jaqueline Lazu, among countless others.