Get Familiar: Emory Douglas

Get Familiar: Emory Douglas

Get Familiar: Emory Douglas
Emory Douglas is a key figure in the Black Panther Party. From 1967 to the 1980s, Douglas was involved with the Party after recognizing the need for self-defense, which is what the Panthers focused on from the beginning. After linking up with the co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale just mere months after the formation of the Party, Douglas began to travel down a road of graphic design which would make his art synonymous with the identity of liberation movements all over the world. ⁠⁠
Douglas is one of the most prolific graphic agitators in the world of Revolutionary art. His understanding of how powerful an image could be at communicating ideas is unmatched. Adapting primitive printing techniques to create a unique visual language that was based on two-colours but seemed to provide a full image made his work stand out from the rest. His distinctive illustration style featured thick black outlines and resourceful tint and texture combinations. He would often collage and then re-collage his own work to adapt to fit more modern times and through traveling and teaching people about his work, he is now remixing his own work on photoshop too and keeping up with contemporary issues that he can challenge through his art.⁠⁠
After turning down many attempts to commodify his work from other brands, Emory saw that Team Patta held high the same beliefs as himself. As a Black-owned brand we are proud to carry our values on our chest and stand up for those intersection issues that the Panthers already stood for. Many of our initiatives have been influenced by the way we have seen artists like Emory Douglas tackle social issues. Now, we get to pass down Douglas’ messages in a new context with a capsule collection consisting of a T-Shirt, Hooded Sweatshirt, Coach Jacket, Pouch Wallet and Sports Cap. ⁠⁠
When we first approached you, it was very clear and polite but you declined, can you fill us in on why that was and what made you change your mind?

I knew of your company but I wasn't familiar with the politics and ethics of the people behind your company or yourself. I was glad to see there was a diverse and black company that was successful and achieving its goals butI was not aware of the social justice that was taking place within the brand. So consistently, everytime i came to the brand, I saw that there was substance behind the desires of what you wanted to achieve with the products. That was the basis of it. I have turned down many other project before hands.

As a fan of yours, I was always surprised that nobody had ever done a project with you before, especially in the world of streetwear - streetwear from the start was about activism and I always wonder why this had not happened already but it turns out that you turned down quite a few. This does make the project extra special for us. With these current times, especially with the amount of police killings that have taken place in recent memory, there has been a new wave of awareness of the injustices taking place in the world - some of it performative - it's powerful yet saddening that your work is still so relevant. How do you feel about it?

Well, it's because the symbolism hasn’t changed all too much in over 50 years or so. I do a lot of presentations where I talk about the context of the work, about the history of the images and how the work came about. And a lot of times people say if you just tweak these two things it's pretty much showing our contemporary issues. The commonality of the work then and now is the social justice work that it does and the message that comes with it.
I believe that early on you understood the importance of communicating the messages of the Black Panther Party’s message through visuals. Why do you think visuals are so important and what is the role of art within activism?

The importance of art is that it's a visual language. It's a way to communicate universally. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale understood the importance of having our own publication - a newspaper - that told our story from our perspective and our view. It could praise you on one hand and criticise you on the other. They said they wanted to have a lot of photographs, bold captions and artwork. Back then the community wasn’t the reading community - they learnt by observing and participating what was happening around them. For those who weren’t going to read these long articles and essays in the paper, they would be able to get the gist of the newspaper through just taking a glance at the artwork, the photographs and the captions. It was a visual lens to communicate with a broader African American community but it even transcends that into broader communities. But in the context of the African American community, it was a group of people that were not necessarily going to read every article because they were observing and participating

Even if you don’t know the exact issues that your work is about, I think when you see it you instantly understand it. You succeed in this 100%.
I read something from an African Liberation movement brother from Guinea who was a revolutionary. He said that “you have to be able to speak in a way that even a child could understand you” and I took that into my own artistic practises - drawing in a way that a child can get some substance from the work itself.

The Black Panther Party started from the need to provide self defence and liberation for African Americans but you have now reached these global marginalized communities. The Black Panther Party’s beliefs and methodology has reached people all around the world. The issues they fought were broad enough to connect with a lot of peoples struggles such as anti-capitalism, defunding the police and standing for your own neighbourhood. Can you explain why the group thought it was so important to stand for all these issues?

Intersectionality was there at the very inception of the group. Transcending borders and boundaries. Supporting people's struggles around the world. We always had a centerfold of our paper in an international section. Highlighting things that were going down in places like Asia, African and Latin America. That was always a fact in the paper. We also had representatives in our organisation who were invited to different countries. There was always that interest. There had never been a youth movement, led by African Americans, standing up for themselves, determined to achieve liberation. And so in that context, we had a powerful way of communicating and using language that was totally provocative but very enlightening and informative. We managed to galvanise a lot of people because we had a lot of creative folks in the party and it was the urgency of showing people what we were about and our vision. We had many students from all over the world - not just the states - who were also in solidarity with the party. In 1971, we had a chapter of the Black Panther Party in New Zealand - the Polynesian Panthers who are about to celebrate their 50th birthday. There is Australian Panther’s who are in Brisbane, Australia. You even had the London Panthers. You have a lot of people who were inspired by the Panthers across the globe.

I know it's a very big question but, I’d like your perspective on why we are still in this situation?

We are in this situation because of institutional structural racism that we are dealing with. There are individuals within these institutions who propagate - keeping this barrier up. You know slavery was about profits, prison industrial system was about money. All of these things. Exploitation at any cost. It is that privileged class mentality that exists in the world. Exceptionalism - you look at the word and you’ll know what it is. It's a class thing and a race thing at the same time. The civil rights movement was about integrating into a system that was already corrupt. And you wanted to be a part of it because you had been locked out of it and the quality of life that it brings. But what happens is that there was no transformation of the individuals who go into those systems because of the roadblocks that they had to deal with within the context of that and the program and the way that it's set up. You could take an example from today - when you become a politician, you take an oath, so you no longer can speak on issues that you did with your community anyway because you would be in violation of that oath that you took. So you can see that it is all built into our existing structures. Its institutional bigotry. And they are threatened by people of colour becoming impactful. The art is a reflection of the Ten-Point Program of the Black Panther’s. Quality education, quality housing. Even wanting black men to be exempt from military service, not to go fight wars for weapons of mass destruction.

One of the things that I am most inspired by is the free food program.

The FBI said that the most dangerous thing to nation security is the free breakfast program. You had a local politician in the 60s whose name was Jesse Andrew, who was the treasury to the state OF cali government and he said that the BPP was feeding more children than the US government. And it was a fact, we were. That's why parents started demanding this free lunch program around the uk. And this still exists today. That's because we knew children could not follow a lesson plan with an empty stomach - they were malnourished. Parents would have to choose between paying rent, keeping their gas and lighting on as well as feeding themselves. This program allowed them to have money left over to take care of themselves. This program came out of having conversations and observations made within our community.

Are you still involved in these sorts of programs?

As much as you humanly can be involved in this program. We set these programs up years ago so now we are in a different social context to the 1960s and 1970s. We have adapted for high numbers of unemployment, more people are homeless than before. In the context of what exists today, we are still putting on survival events that deal with these issue and help young people - that do giveaways for

Do you still see that in the world?

Absolutely - that is what you have with Black Lives Matter. Also in the hip hop generation who were inspired by the Black Panthers who kept it alive like Public Enemy, Dead Prez in their lyrics they always spoke about the Panthers.
How has your art changed over time?
I remix the work, these kids showed me the way around photoshop and now I'm remixing my work for the current issues. I have experience cutting up and collage. I did a talk recently, about 2 years ago at UCLA. Presented some work and there was a person in the crowd who knew of my old work and they said "Emory, you're still saying the same things"