The dim lights, eclectic world music, and chatter of people talking and laughing made the CELLspace gallery inviting.
But the 150 posters with messages of revolution told the stories of people who have lived in a less welcoming world.
One poster has the muscular body of a man with his hands tightly secured behind his back with handcuffs and chains. Another shows the young face of woman covered in a hijab, or headscarf, and a rifle with the text demanding a free Palestine. There was also a poster of a skull and cross bones with a soldier’s helmet in the color of the American flag.
“It’s amazing to see all the same fights we’re still fighting the same fights of 30 years ago,” said 20-year-old Abby Warren, who came to the art show with her roommate from their downtown apartment.
The posters and handbills in the exhibit titled, “Defiant Proclamations” showed snippets of the Mission District’s history. One poster announces a criminal justice conference being held on Capp Street. Another advertises an anti-corporation film festival in 2006.
Another poster, part of a series that caught the attention of police in the 1990s, shows a young couple having a drink in a restaurant with tables that have white tablecloths—a direct criticism to a wave of gentrification.
“We pasted it illegally all around the Mission in 1999. It was direct reaction to what was going on at the height of the dot.com boom,” said Russell Howze. “A lot of poster artist came out and broke the law and tried to defy what was happening.”
The dot.com boom that went bust in 2002 created enormous wealth and with easy access to the the freeways leading to Silicon Valley and an edgy, young feel, the Mission became prime real estate. Howze, who was living in the Mission District at that time, said he watched many of his friends move because of rent increases.
It also inspired a backlash campaign to kick out yuppies or, at least, to make their lives unpleasant. The Mission Yuppie Eradication Project began advocating — with how-to-posters — the vandalizing of their car batteries, tires and paint jobs.
Police began to investigate the Project and its leader Kevin Keating was arrested. Keating’s house was ransacked, said Howze.
“The police definitely noticed because he was inciting violence and riots,” Howze said. He was suggesting how to torch SUVs, for example. He also gave a list of Yuppie establishments in the Mission and what you could do to them.”
Other posters on display were from events, such as the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair scheduled for next week in San Francisco.
“I love posters. I’ve always had posters plastered all over my wall,” said Vince Dugar. “If I have a wall and it’s a white wall I’ll cover it with posters, no matter what. No matter where I’m at.”
Dugar, who lives in the East Bay Area and is a poster dealer, said he mostly collects pop culture and music posters but one day he began to take a closer look at posters with radical and revolutionary messages.
“This is history going through my hands all the time,” he thought. “They expose what people were discussing. The same issues plague our society and culture ‘till this day.”