"I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures." The famous Apache leader known as Geronimo died on this date in 1909. One hundred years later, in 2009, his descendants filed suit against those institutions that held his remains and funerary objects. They saw the holding of those items as imprisonment, such as the forcible detention of their Great-Grandfather for over twenty years before his death. Extremely posthumously, the US House of Representatives then honored Geronimo for his bravery, courage, and commitment to his people. But many native tribes and their lands continue to be exploited by the US government, whose policies often favor oil and coal companies over the rights of the people or ecological concerns. And the prairies are filled with enclosures.
Geronimo was a Firebrand! This illustration for Firebrands: Portraits from the Americas is by Roger Peet.
“My friends! Be strong…because me, I am nothing…”
(Sitting Bull’s song, according to Cedric Good House.)
Today is a great day to honor the life of Tatanaka Iyotake, popularly known as Sitting Bull, who died on this day in 1890. Six years ago on December 15th, his descendants held a ceremony for him. Having recently received his leggings and a piece of his hair from the Smithsonian due to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, they held the ceremony to figure out what to do with the items. Check out this great American Public Media interview with Ernie LaPointe in which he talks about that event. Also on that page you can view pictures drawn by Sitting Bull while imprisoned. They are incredible in the amount of detail and the flatness of the human figures compared to the fullness of the horse figures.
Tatanaka Iyotake was a Firebrand! This illustration for Firebrands: Portraits from the Americas is by Roger Peet. Can you think of a Firebrand whose life you'd like to highlight? Leave a comment!
Dia da Consciência Negra, or Black Awareness Day, is celebrated on this day every year in Brazil. The date of the holiday was selected to honor Zumbi dos Palmares for his life as a freedom fighter. Zumbi was the last leader of the Quilombos, escaped former slaves who formed settlements of thousands of people, hounded ruthlessly by the wealthy land-owning Portugese. Considered the patron saint of the fighting art, Capoeria, Zumbi was a brilliant strategist who outwitted the well-armed troops for many years, in an attempt to maintain the freedom of his people.
Zumbi was a Firebrand! This illustration for Firebrands: Portraits from the Americas is by Roger Peet, also a brilliant strategist. Do you know of a Firebrand, living or historical, you think should be mentioned? Leave a comment!
The iconic American folk singer, Woodie Guthrie, was born on this day in 1912. Publicly appearing with a guitar labeled "This Machine Kills Fascists" and writing songs about class inequity which responded to the zeitgeist then, Guthrie made a mark both as a musician influencing generations of singer-songwriters, and as a man of political consciousness. The latter, though, has often been overlooked, like his song This Land is Your Land, whose original lyrics question the repercussions of free-market capitalism and private property. A hand-written list publicized last year of Guthrie's own New Year's resolutions for 1942 contain hilarious and practical ideas for how to make this year better than the next. You can see them here.
Guthrie was a Firebrand! This illustration for Firebrands: Portraits from the Americas is by Chris Stain, an iconic figure himself. Know a Firebrand, living or historical, that you think should be highlighted? Leave a comment!
“History is not the past. It is the stories that we tell about the past. How we tell these stories – triumphantly, self-critically, metaphysically, or dialectically – has a lot to do with whether we cut short or advance our evolution as human beings.” ~Grace Lee Boggs
It was certainly an honor to represent Grace Lee Boggs for Firebrands: Portraits from the Americas, and also with Jimmy Boggs in a Celebrate People's History poster about the two of them. Grace, who turns 98 today in Detroit, is an incredibly thoughtful, original activist whose life's work focused on the creation of alternatives that bring out the best of humanity. She is known for looking at problems from all angles, including upside down. Her ideas and positive spirit will continue to radiate for years and years in the lives of the people she's mentored, encouraged, and inspired. Thank you Grace!
Do you know a Firebrand that you'd like us to feature, living or historical? Leave a comment!
A stalwart advocate of reproductive choice, Doctor Henry Morgentaler worked as an abortion doctor and activist since the 1960's. Despite threats, protests, attacks, shooting, firebombs, arrest and imprisonment, Morgentaler took the cause all the way to Canada's Supreme Court, where he won the case in the 1980's. This struggle made him a household name in Canada, where the issue of abortion is still extremely contentious. Morgantaler was born to Jewish parents in Poland in 1923, and after having lost his parents to the Gestapo and surviving Auschwitz, he retained a strong sense of justice which he brought to the medical profession. Morgentaler died yesterday in Toronto at the age of 90.
Morgantaler was a Firebrand! This illustration from the Justseeds collective book Firebrands: Portraits From the Americas is by Jesse Purcell. Do you know a Firebrand, living or historical? Leave a comment!
To mark the closing day of the "Posters of Inspirational European Women: Taken from the zine Shape & Situate" exhibition, Space Station Sixty Five will be hosting a collection of resources from other sociopolitical art, poster, zine and publication projects for everyone to explore.
Justseeds is represented with the Celebrate People's History poster series, Firebrands: Portraits of the Americas, and videos of Justseeds artists Melanie Cervantes, Jesus Barraza, Favianna Rodriguez and Mary Tremonte talking about their work.
Remembering Who We Are: Exploring artistic and creative sociopolitical memory, and art in social change movements
Saturday 26th January 2013
Space Station Sixty Five, 373 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PS
A day of presentations, exhibitions, a resource archive, video screenings, discussions, participatory zine-making, and more.
Born on this day in 1800, John Brown is a man whom it is hard to feel neutral about. Called a terrorist by some and a martyr by others, Brown was moved to violence by his conviction of the slavery system as evil and wrong, a conviction supported by his strong Christian faith. "John Brown’s legacy is typically whittled down to his audacious orchestration of an armed slave revolt in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia...However, his October, 1859 raid on an armory saw Brown with only 21 armed supporters, all of whom were eventually overcome by a force of U.S. Marines." (Firebrands: Portraits From the Americas).
Before his execution, Brown gave a speech which summed up his views: "Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!"
Happy Birthday to Elizabeth Catlett, who would have turned 97 today. Catlett is an inspiration to many in the Justseeds crew for her linocut print work, and her participation in the Taller de Gráfica Popular of Mexico City. Formed in 1937, the Taller was a printmaking group whose work covered subjects like anti-facism, literacy and schools, and organized labor. She is also an amazing sculptor, and although not well known by the general public, her work can be found in major art museums around the U.S. if you look (I communed with "stargazer" many times while working at the Detroit Institute of Arts).
Catlett's work and life will be a source of inspiration to political graphic producers for years to come: "Spare, reserved, angry, radical beautiful...Genius in her ideas and in their execution...there's a motion and fluidity...she doesn't fuck around." (Nosedive #9, 1999) I'm grateful for her incredible contributions to the world. Up until her death, Catlett lived and worked in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Illustration from Firebrands: Portraits From the Americas.
I'm not sure what curse words would have come out of the mouth of Túpac Amaru II, born on this day in 1742 as José Gabriel Condorcanqui Noguera, but surely he was a man that needed to utilize expressions of rage. Claiming direct lineage to the last Incan chief whose name he took on, Amaru II began a widespread insurrection that ignited the whole region: "South of Cuzco, Túpac Amaru goes about freeing Indians tied to the looms. The winds of the great rebellion deprive viceroys of their sleep in Lima, Buenos Aires, and Bogotá." (Galeano, Faces & Masks) He was successful at stirring up feelings of fear in the hearts of those in power, and determination in the hearts of the oppressed, but Amaru's own story did not end well. After betrayal by his officers, the Spanish unsuccessfully tried to quarter him with horses. Yo, that means they tied each limb to a horse and pulled. Since that didn't work, they cut his head off. Damn!
Illustration from Firebrands: Portraits From the Americas.
Born Eunice Waymon on this day in 1933, Nina Simone has been one of my greatest heros since I bought the 1974 album It Is Finished when I was fifteen. Ten years later I finally saw her in concert, only a few years before her death. Wearing a homemade ball gown and a fancy coat borrowed from a drag queen, I wept upon hearing her sing Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair and Mississippi Goddam in person. Sassy, emotional, fierce, graceful, and imperfect, I always appreciated the way Nina mixed her passion for justice with her love of music. In her concerts, she morphed with the mood of the room and kicked down the imaginary boundaries of genres like "classical," "pop" or "jazz". From her position as the "High Priestess of Soul," Nina could easily have been broken and humbled by the persistence of racism and ignorance in the U.S. or the corruption in the music industry, but she kept it real: "Ha! Do you know what an Obeah woman is? I kiss the moon and hug the sun, call the spirits and make 'em run. They call me Nina, and pisces too…there ain't nothin' I can't do." I still listen to Nina when nothing else helps.
Illustration from Firebrands: Portraits From the Americas.
Marlon Riggs was born on this day in 1957. A political filmmaker, Riggs started exploring themes of race and sexuality in his films while attending Harvard University. As he was originally from Texas, a film festival in Dallas named for him will run it's third annual event this year. The following text is from Firebrands: Portraits from the Americas: "Banned from numerous public-broadcasting stations, Riggs’ work sparked debates about funding and censorship in public television, and encouraged him to rally support for a more inclusive, diverse popular media. After contracting the HIV virus, Riggs became an outspoken AIDS activist, exploring his experiences in his film Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No, I Regret Nothing). He continued to work on his film Black Is…Black Ain’t, a personal journey and examination of a myriad of African-American identities, until his death in 1994."
Today is the birthday of Angela Davis. Davis is best known for her work with the Black Panthers in the 1970's, subsequent time on the lam, and incredible afro; she has also been a forceful and passionate voice in the prison abolition movement since the 1980's, working with groups like Critical Resistance. The following text is from Firebrands: Portraits From the Americas: "Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Angela Yvonne Davis is a scholar, orator and revolutionary. Davis became involved with the Black Panther Party in the summer of 1970, working on a campaign to free imprisoned Black Panther activists the Soledad Brothers. When a shotgun registered in Davis’ name was used in an attempt to free prisoner James McClain during a court hearing, Davis appeared on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list and was thrust into the national spotlight."
Muhammad Ali was born on this day in 1942 and has kicked ass ever since. A poet boxer, Ali publicly announced his conversion to the nation of Islam the day after he won the title of heavyweight boxing champion of the world. The following text is from Firebrands: Portraits from the Americas.
"In 1966, Muhammad Ali was drafted by the U.S. Army. Although it was clear that the celebrity Ali would not see active combat, he steadfastly refused any military service. Giving up his heavyweight title and millions of dollars, and risking his freedom and career, Ali was banned from boxing for almost four years for following his conscience. Ali’s actions resonated around the globe. He was a forceful voice in opposition to the war in Vietnam, a black man with courage and conviction and a fearless dissenter in a world where “jocks” were not supposed to be radically minded."