The outstanding Emory Douglas exhibition at the Urbis in Manchester is much more than an art show. Visitors can feel the atmosphere the Black Panthers developed in and the outrage that made the party grow.
As you enter you are confronted with giant images of racist oppression and resistance. Brutal photos of lynchings accompany images of resistance like the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics.
The exhibition is not static. Screens show film of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. Passing through a corridor between rooms you hear the crack of gunshots.
In another room a classroom of school desks is laid out. Each desk has a revolutionary book on it that visitors can read. And all around are Emory’s striking images, both as they originally appeared in the Black Panther newspaper and blown up.
His pictures show ordinary people in struggle. Emory says, “That was one of the things that made people gravitate to us. Sometimes we took photos, then I did those pictures of ordinary people looking powerful.”
Emory is remarkably modest about his own artistic talents. He said, “Some of the styles I developed at college weren’t compatible with commercial art so they were rejected,” he says. “But when the opportunity came it just evolved and came out.
“It was also a matter of what could be cheaply duplicated. And of course I had to do that ‘woodcut’ style, without actually doing woodcuts.”
Emory has obtained FBI files on the surveillance of himself and these are on the walls.
A big display shows the radical lyrics to Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos by Public Enemy. Emory said, “The hip-hop community brought back an interest. They helped keep the spirit alive”.
Anyone interested in fighting the system should get to the exhibition and make sure that spirit is passed on.