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Black History Month - Elizabeth Catlett— Poster of the Week

Updated: Mar 11



Detengamos la guerra [Stop the War]

Design: Elizabeth Catlett

Linocut: Alberto Beltrán

Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP)

1951

Mexico City, Mexico

36139


African Americans and the Arts is the 2024 theme for Black History Month, and CSPG is highlighting Elizabeth Catlett, a still under-recognized Black artist whose radical and outspoken work led to her exile from the U.S.


Catlett was born in Washington, D.C. in 1915 and earned degrees from Howard University and the University of Iowa. She was the first Black person and woman to receive a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. In 1946, she moved to Mexico on an art fellowship, and in 1947 joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP), the now iconic People's Print Workshop. She worked with the anti-fascist and leftist TGP until 1966. As Catlett worked alongside members of

the Communist Party—and was an outspoken activist herself—she was labeled an “undesirable alien” and banned from returning to the U.S. She renounced her American citizenship and became a Mexican citizen in 1962. She was only able to return to the U.S. in 1971, and with strict limitations.


In an era when Black women were deliberately excluded from the visual arts, Catlett was a trailblazer, representing and challenging racism, classism, and sexism. She was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, and the Chicago Black Renaissance of the 1930s through 1950s. Best known for her prints and sculpture, Catlett’s work became widely influential in the Black Power, Black Arts, and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Above all, she was devoted to creating work that served and inspired people by showcasing the complexity of the human condition.


“After I decided to be an artist, the first thing I had to believe was that I, a black woman, could penetrate the art scene, and that, further, I could do so without sacrificing one iota of my blackness or my femaleness or my humanity.”


“Detengamos la guerra [Stop the War]” exemplifies Catlett’s frequent themes of social justice, women, and humanity. The poster advertised the Primer Congreso Nacional por la Paz (First National Peace Congress), held in Mexico City in May 1951. A giant protective hand emerges above the workers and peasants who stand defiantly against the weapons of aggression. Symbolizing the resistance of the Mexican people to war, the poster’s powerful message is inspiring and eternal.


In today’s increasingly war-torn world, this anti-war poster encourages us to defy war-mongering by unifying against the powers that would divide us. Catlett’s solidarity with the Mexican people against oppression and violence demonstrates the legacy of African American solidarity with intersectional and cross-cultural struggles.


“Detengamos la guerra [Stop the War]” has been reused in posters opposing other wars, including the U.S.-funded wars in Central America in the 1980s. The powerful depiction of a woman protecting her child—described as both protective and defiant—evokes many wars, including the U.S.-funded Israeli bombing of Gaza taking place right now.


No one is free until we are all free. Detengamos todas guerras. Stop all wars.


 

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