The aesthetics of protest: how Occupy sees itself (chapter one)

Hello and thanks for visiting. We originally wrote this post at the beginning of December 2011, and as new information and events continued to unfold in the following weeks, we updated this page with fresh links and images. Now, as Occupy emerges from the winter months having given birth to an entirely new movement in contemporary visual culture, we feel it is appropriate to archive this post as a chronicle of Occupy’s visual beginnings, and allow the movement time and space to further evolve with respect to protest aesthetics in the arts and design, music and performance, giant puppets, flashmobs, bat signals, and whatever other forms it will eventually take. Thanks for the feedback and interest, and let’s all stay tuned.

December 5, 2011

For those who didn’t get to Miami Beach this weekend (and for those who are back and in recovery mode), we bring you an art fair of a different sort, one in which the images are all free, and all about freedom.

The Occupy movement has distinguished itself in many ways, not least of which has been in the incredible quantity and quality of visual expression supporting the movement’s immediate aims and long-term goals. With the credibility of mass media being increasingly called into question (see recent articles linked below on the New York Times‘ biased reportage on protests, differences between US and international Time Magazine covers, as well as a studies showing that viewers of Fox News know less than people who don’t watch any news at all), the Occupy movement has stepped into the void and co-opted visual culture in a massively widespread grassroots campaign to instigate, educate, and disseminate its many messages to an even broader global audience. And no wonder it’s been so successful, considering its origins in the media-savvy culture-jamming ethos at Adbusters.

Seeing itself reflected within a multitude of mirrors in the forms of art, design, video, viral memes, large-scale projections and even exhibitions, the Occupy movement reflexively instigates, educates, and amplifies itself through visual means, much in the same way its use of the human microphone amplifies the verbal. In this way, Occupy multiplies, extending its reach and strengthening its impact worldwide.

Below, some of our favorite images from all over Occupy (skewed toward the lesser-known and more global in origin), plus links to some of the more comprehensive collections, exhibitions and articles online. Although we could never begin to present a complete picture of Occupy, take this as our (somewhat blurry) snapshot of a game-changing movement in motion. Be prepared to scroll.

On the origins and visual evolution of Occupy

— Adbusters and “The Branding of the Occupy Movement” at The Seattle Times
— “V for Visibility” on the history and symbolism of the Guy Fawkes mask by Stuart Elden at Society & Space
— “The poster art of Occupy Wall Street” at Breaking Copy
— “Occupy poster art: drawing inspiration from underground comics and vintage socialist art” at The Guardian
— “Dispatches from Occupy Wall Street” at The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest
— “#Occupy Poster Art” and nice poster gallery at Territorial Masquerades
— “Occupy Volume, Occupy Verticality” on the aerial tents of Berkeley and New York, at Territorial Masquerades
— “thy life is a flitting state, a tent for the night”: architecture student actions at Occupy Cal on zunguzungu
— OWS as a new art form in “The Deal with Occupy Museums” by Paddy Johnson/Art Fag City
— “The Arts of Occupation”: article relating OWS to Situationist International by Yates McKee for The Nation
— Open letter to LMCC signed by Laurie Andersen, Salman Rushdie, and John Zorn, among many others
— Holland Cotter: museums v. Occupy in “Complacency Butts Up Against Game Changers”, New York Times
— 2011: Year of Art and Protest, 99% Bat Signal one of 2011’s top ten artworks by Ben Davis of ArtInfo
— Interesting post on artistic process and delayed response of artists to Occupy by gallerist Ed Winkleman
— Nice post on how Occupy seamlessly integrates politics, art, and life, by Carol Cheh for Art21
— Occupy Nationwide Conference Call organizers on international arts collaborations, by Hyperallergic


— Nice selection of free downloadable posters at Occuprint
— Designer Toolkit and more posters at Occupy Together
— Building a visual language for the 99%: Occupy Design

— Occupy gets an identity from McMillian+Furlow
— Impactful revolution posters including OWS by Michael Thompson aka Freestylee

Information Graphics:
Occupy has inspired a raft of infographics devoted to visualizing the vast disparity in income between the 1% and everyone else.
— “Occupy Scales of Wealth: Income Inequality Visualized as NYC Map” on Brain Pickings
— Infographics gallery at Occupy Design

— Occupy Print Portfolio featuring 30 hand-silkscreened posters from the worldwide Occupy movement, produced by Booklyn


— This is What Democracy Looks Like: An Exhibition That Reaches Out at Hyperallergic
— No Comment: “Artists Occupy Wall Street for a 24-Hour Show” at The New York Times
— “Occupying the Window at Printed Matter”, a window installation of Occupy art, as featured on Hyperallergic
— Strategies for Public Occupation,
an exhibition of ideas for enabling acts of communication and action between the civil society and the structures of economic and political power from architects, artists and citizens at large at Storefront for Art and Architecture
— Corporations are People Too, featuring artists whose work touches on corporate culture as it has evolved to influence, if not define, political and cultural ideologies (but which was not made directly in response to Occupy; call this show a curator’s response to current events), at Winkleman Gallery
— “Occupy Toronto lives on at pop-up exhibit in Parkdale”, as featured in BlogTO

Online galleries and artists:
— Archive and clearinghouse for #OccupyWallStreet artists and art actions: The Occupennial
— Facebook Page (one of over 350 devoted to Occupy): Occupy Art
— Facebook Page (there is also a Tumblr version): The Faces of the 99%
— Storefront for Art and Architecture features Matthew Connor’s Portraits of Dissent
— Vanessa Bahmani’s: 1000 Portraits of the 99% on Huffington Post
— “Occupy Art Protesters Captured on Newsprint”: the artwork of Guy Denning at Visual News
— Police Brutality Coloring Book: Art project/zine featuring 46 drawings by contemporary artists contributed in response to the recent wave of excessive force used by the police in U.S. cities, compiled by Joe Heaps Nelson
— The story behind the Police Brutality Coloring Book plus a gallery of images at Wired
— “Occupy Wall Street: A Painter’s View” at Hyperallergic
— Tyler Shields’ “Occupied” photo series, featured on the Daily Mail
— Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree for Zuccotti Park, in the form of 10,000 postcards, as featured in Hyperallergic

Occupy/Media for the Masses and DIY Projects

The N17 Projections in New York City

— Behind the scenes video of the groundbreaking guerrilla projections in NYC by Mark Read and company: #Occupy Bat Signal for the 99%
— The 99% Bat Signal story by Mark Read for The Brooklyn Rail
— DIY! Occupy “Bat Signal” source files and handy how-to guide for guerilla projects from
— “On Thursday, Occupy Wall Street Found Hip-Hop and High-Tech Projectors” at GOOD
— Interview with Occupy Wall Street “bat-signal” creator during Brooklyn Bridge #N17 at Boing Boing

— Guerilla projections, Part 2: Great interview with Mark Read about The Illuminator, a mobile library and Bat Signal on wheels backed by Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry’s), at ArtInfo
— See more photos and follow the Illuminator in its travels on their Facebook page

— Downloadable infographics which can be used for printing or stamping the facts of US wealth and income disparity directly onto dollar bills, available from Occupy George

It’s been fascinating to watch the Pepper-Spray Cop meme blow up and evolve. From its first mocking incarnation as a tour through art history and pop culture, to its ongoing subversion and transformation in meaning and form, it’s the gif that just keeps on giving. Links below.

— “The pepper-spraying cop gets Photoshop justice” at The Guardian
— Gallery of Pepper Spraying Cop images (one of many such collections) on Tumblr


— Culture-jamming at its finest: The Occupied Wall Street Journal
— The Sparrow Project: The Declaration of Occupy Wall Street
— n+1 Magazine releases free PDFs of Occupy! The OWS-inspired Gazette
— Beautiful Trouble is a book and web toolbox that puts the accumulated wisdom of decades of creative protest into the hands of the next generation of change-makers. Published by OR Books, available here

Photojournalists, Filmmakers, Sound & Video

— Independent photojournalists covering Occupy out of Philadelphia:
— The Occupation, photo exhibition of Occupy Toronto by Ian Willms at Gallery44
— “Filming Occupy Wall Street” article at The Brooklyn Rail
— 53 second video by Wake the Beast: March With Us
— 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film organized by Audrey Ewell & Aaron Aites
— Short film by Velcrow Ripper and Ian MacKenzie: Occupy Love
— Sound and video art gallery at Occupennial

Occupy/Possibilities for the Future of Protest Aesthetics

— The Future of the Occupy Movement (in memes) at Cyborgology
— Occupy Wall Street group looks to open arts space by Helen Stoilas at The Art Newspaper
— “Occupy in Hibernation: A Response”, exploring how cognitive permanence is crucial to the movement’s survival, by Sarah Wanenchak for Cyborgology

— InterOccupy connects arts and culture Occupiers across the movement here
— Occupy with Art (formerly Occupennial) comprises artists, writers, curators, and art professionals lending their skills to produce art, cultural events and projects, with a particular focus on OWS itself as a social art process. Find out more here
— Art Is My Occupation is a website created to provide direct support to artists of the 99% in the form of production grants, distribution, and PR—check it here

— For further reading: 10 Essential Books on Protest, compiled by Brain Pickings
— For further watching: Top 10 Films That Explain Why OWS Exists”, compiled by Films For Action

Articles on mass media referenced above
— “Why Did the NYTimes Change Their Brooklyn Bridge Arrests Story?” by Nick Green, The Village Voice
— “TIME Glosses Over Egyptian Unrest In U.S. Cover Choice” by Kathy Gill at The Moderate Voice
— “Fox News Viewers Know Less Than People Who Don’t Watch Any News: Study” from Huffington Post

See any glaring omissions? Suggestions and additions are welcome in the comments (and thanks).

images, from top to bottom:

Cover images
Evan Levy, Adbusters, Aaron Bady aka zunguzungu (Occupy Cal)

Michael Thompson aka Freestylee, A.J. Hateley, unknown (Occupy Lancaster), Tine Gybel, Michael Thompson aka Freestylee, unknown (Occupy Malaysia), Fred Zaw, Michael Barker, Keith Lowe, Nobodycorp International Unlimited, Colin Smith, Kenneth Kin-Tin Hung, unknown (Occupy Athlone), unknown (Occupy Rio), Rich Black, Adam Winnik, Michael Swarts

Amélie Jardel Lecoeur, Alex Powers, unknown (Mind the Income Gap), Guy Denning, Joe Heaps Nelson, Tyler Shields, Matthew Connors, Yoko Ono (photo  by Chris Cobb), PreOccupied exhibition: Javin Lau

Media for the Masses/DIY
Guerilla projections: Mark Read; Photos of Verizon building with projections: unknown (, Eduardo Munoz/Reuters; Mark Read on top of The Illuminator, Atlantic Yards: Michael Galinsky; Occupy Town Square photo: Athena Soules; Occupy George; Pepper Spraying Cop images: unknown; Occupied Wall Street Journal: Mat McDermott; The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City: The Sparrow Project;  Occupy! The OWS-inspired Gazette, issues 1 and 2: n+1 Magazine; Caitlin Morris (Occupy Philly); Beautiful Trouble

Possible Futures of Protest Aesthetics
Exhibition photo of This is What Democracy Looks Like at NYU Gallatin Galleries: Liza Eliano

Union Square: Jed Brandt

NOTE: Credits are as accurate as possible; given the anonymous nature of many online image submissions, unintentional errors may occur. Please let us know if anything appears to be inaccurately attributed. All images will link to their sources on the web wherever possible; if not linked, it means we couldn’t recover the source and would be happy to receive any information on the image or its creator.

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