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Exhibition Guide

This exhibition focuses on traditional American icons from the 18th-20th centuries. Though it includes many conventional representations, most of the posters subvert the iconic figure in order to draw attention to contemporary issues. The more revered or well-known the symbol, be it Uncle Sam, the flag, Statue of Liberty, bald eagle, the dollar sign, Rosie the Riveter, Marines at Iwo Jima, or Mt. Rushmore, the more likely it is to be parodied, appropriated or altered.


Diverse movements for social change, from immigrant rights to ecology and anti-war, often incorporate patriotic symbols into a visual language that ranges from the iconoclastic to overt protest. Although protest graphics have a long history, they literally exploded during the Viet Nam War, often turning conventional patriotic images into graphics critiquing U.S. government policies—a tradition that continues to this day.


These posters were made to provoke thought and action. They take patriotic symbols off their pedestals and into the streets.  They raise questions, challenge preconceptions and foster debate.  Above all, they dispute the commonly held definition of patriotism as unconditional support for what our government says and does.  Censorship and repression, so common in wartime, always result in the elimination of dissent, and violate the very principles on which this country was found­ed.  In contrast, these posters forcefully and graphically demonstrate that citizenship includes the obligation to struggle for justice and that dissent is patriotic.


Note: Images appear in the order intended for exhibition display. Please contact us for more information on bringing an exhibition to your institution.



To view the full American Icons exhibition with annotations, browse the publication below. Use the toolbar to navigate between pages, view fullscreen, and search annotations for key words and phrases.

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