There's a curious lack of urgency in "Graphic Advocacy: International Posters of the Digital Age 2001-2012" at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. These 122 posters are cleverly designed, but they're more about noting social problems than insisting, "We've got to do something about this!"

The red sun of Japan's flag melts from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Two candles memorialize the World Trade Center towers destroyed on 9/11. A polar-bear-shaped iceberg fractures from global warming. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is a turtle belatedly responding to Hurricane Katrina's drowning of New Orleans.

Great political posters stoke our outrage at injustices. They urge us to resist business as usual. They foster our empathy for victims. They assure us that we are not alone. Like Shepard Fairey's iconic 2008 Obama campaign poster (conspicuously absent here), they offer hope that we can do something about problems, that leaders will help us. Great political posters show that we share common causes. They invite us to join people already working to plant urban gardens, to help victims of Haiti's earthquake, to stop wars.

These posters, rounded up by MassArt graphic design professor Elizabeth Resnick, focus on simply, vividly stating facts. They remind us that BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a problem, cancer is a problem, war is a problem.

The artists favor neat digital compositions and riffs on mid-20th-century Modernist graphics over emotional connection or persuasion. They're too polite. And there's little sense of we. Problems seem to be happening to someone else. Solutions feel individualistic — one must do something, "I will not be silenced."

Like many of the designs, the Occupy movement posters speak in symbols (Guy Fawkes mask) and slogans (99%) that you're expected to already know. Rich Black creates a powerful graphic of a man leading a crowd to stand up to three tanks. (But, boy, likening the Occupy protests to the man who stood down the tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 is over the top.) It's one of the few Occupy posters in which the cause is even mentioned: "Resist austerity/Reclaim the economy/Recreate our democracy!"

"Our democracy." It feels like a turning point in Leftist activism — a new sense of passion, a new sense that we're in this together, that this is our problem, that "We are the 99%."


"GRAPHIC ADVOCACY" :: MassArt, 621 Huntington Ave., Boston :: 617.879.7333 :: :: Through March 2

Related: DeCordova looks ahead with Andy Goldsworthy and Ursula von Rydingsvard, The delights of Three Pianos at the A.R.T., Kenji Nakayama takes an age-old craft to new places, More more >
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