Timely Lessons: Finding Inspiration in Political Posters

Bay Area students studied SFMOMA collection works
+ found inspiration for their own original creations.

August 2021

How do you make a compelling poster? Students at Salesian College Preparatory High School in Richmond studied the art form – yes, art form! — to come up with their own answers, creating bold and timely graphics in the process.

The assignment stems from SFMOMA’s Teacher Advisory Group, which brings together local teachers and Education Department staff to discuss methods for incorporating museum works across academic disciplines. The cohort is part of a broader effort to demonstrate the role of visual arts in shaping culture and society.

For this project, students in French and Visual Arts courses studied posters from SFMOMA’s collection, using the strategies they saw to create posters responding to class topics, as well as broader social justice and equity issues. “I wanted our students to see that they could make something that was part of a long socio-historical tradition, knowing that many of my students are still processing the significant political and social movements of 2020,” says William Heidenfeldt, who teaches French at Salesian. “I was excited for them to learn about the May 1968 student-led protests, and to have them compare and contrast what they saw in class with what they’ve been experiencing in the past year.”

While the collection works served as points of departure, the inventions and their messages came directly from the students. “I loved seeing students work their way through each step of the project,” says Debra Shushan, chair of the visual and performing arts at the school. “They played with ideas, words, type, and images to make something expressive, beautiful, and sometimes humorous.”

The end result? Potent works that address local and global issues, infused with the artists’ distinct perspectives. Below, browse the posters, read about each work, and find poster-making tutorials and resources.

Lazaro Emanuel Soberano, Strong Children Are Not Abused, 2020; © Lazaro Emanuel Soberano

Strong Children Are Not Abused (2020) by Lazaro Emanuel Soberano

Lazaro Emanuel Soberano aims to show the long-lasting consequences of child abuse with Strong Children Are Not Abused (2020). A red handprint covers the face of an anonymous figure, representing harm that doesn’t fade. “When someone views this picture, they can imagine the action taken to leave that kind of red hand on the child, making the viewer feel uncomfortable and concerned,” the artist says. “The black lines were a last-minute detail added to add a more gloomier atmosphere to the image.” 

Georgia Pournaras, Aider les adolescents à sourire (Helping Teens Smile), 2020; © Georgia Pournaras

Aider les adolescents à sourire (Helping Teens Smile) (2020) by Georgia Pournaras

Georgia Pournaras’s Aider les adolescents à sourire (Helping Teens Smile) (2020) raises awareness for rising rates of depression among teens. “This poster shows that detecting depression in teens can lead to improvements in mental health later in life,” says the artist. “The phrase ‘Helping Teens Smile’ shows the viewer that we can overcome this by talking and sensing the early stages of depression.”

Ethan Mendoza,Grippe-Sou , 2020, © Ethan Mendoza

Grippe-Sou (2020) by Ethan Mendoza

With Grippe-Sou (2020), Ethan Mendoza critiques government structures that benefit the wealthy, using green text and symbols that viewers can immediately associate with cash and money. “My illustration is divided into drawings,” the artist says. “The main image is the government building and the Internal Revenue Service.” The artist chose to add hands snaking out from behind the building, representing policies that exacerbate the country’s wealth gap. 

Plus jamais (2020) by Yeshua (Fernando) Campos

Yeshua (Fernando) Campos’s Plus jamais (2020) is meant to shock. Incorporating a swastika, the work draws parallels between the Holocaust and the internment of the Uyghur people in China. The title of the work translates to “Never Again.” “The art depicts a Uyghur woman silenced and suppressed by the Chinese government,” the artist says. Campos hopes the work inspires people to ask and interrogate their own actions. “Are we allowing this to happen again? Should we trade with a tyrannical government? Should we just sit back or act like the so-called ‘greatest generation’ acted?”

Miguel Sampedro, Jr. Be Aware, 2020 © Miguel Sampedro, Jr.

Be Aware (2020) by Miguel Sampedro, Jr. 

For Be Aware (2020), Miguel Sampedro Jr. strategically uses an attention-grabbing icy blue and neon green color palette. The artist also invokes a viral quote by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to attract audiences. “It has a lot of meaning, which makes my message about climate change clear,” he says. “The face in the middle is supposed to be the Earth as it feels emotions of disgust.” 

Rika Nicole Canlas, This is Not Something You Can Like on Facebook , 2020; © Rika Nicole Canlas

This is Not Something You Can Like on Facebook (2020) by Rika Nicole Canlas

Rika Nicole Canlas’s This is Not Something You Can Like on Facebook (2020) uses droll humor to raise awareness about climate change and the passivity of online environments. “In today’s age, news regarding what is going on in the world around us has become easily accessible,” the artist says. “However, despite the influx of information available to us, many people often just click or scroll away. Climate change isn’t just an image or a post we view on social media. It’s a real and urgent issue and it is something we have to act upon now.”

You’re Gonna Carry That Weight (2020) by Jesse Suratos

Jesse Suratos’s You’re Gonna Carry That Weight (2020) asks viewers to consider who carries the weight of injustice and racism by referencing the murder of George Floyd. “It speaks about police brutality in the American police system,” Suratos says. The officer’s outline may be based on photographs of Derek Chauvin, but the absence of facial features allows the figure to represent systemic racism and brutality that eludes accountability. 

Tatiana Hernandez, Families Belong Together, 2020; © Tatiana Hernandez

Families Belong Together (2020) by Tatiana Hernandez

With Families Belong Together (2020), Tatiana Hernandez chose to make a statement about immigration policy and the separation of families at the U.S—Mexico border. “I believe it to be an important issue that is negatively affecting even the youngest and most innocent people simply for trying to see a better life,” says the artist. “My intention is to bring awareness to this issue and say that we should come together to stop this inhumane treatment.” 

Race and Gender Equity (2020) by Viviana Hernadez

Viviana Hernadez’s Race and Gender Equity (2020) depicts a man and woman divided, with text that reads “I believe there is only one race — the human race,” a famous quote from Rosa Parks. “I chose to use bold colors to outline the individual to make a strong statement about the discrimination that exists today,” the artist says. “We must make a difference today in the world to begin the healing and unite as one.” 

Imbécile Fossile (2020) by Annalyse Tinio

Annalyse Tinio’s Imbécile Fossile incorporates a play on words, with text reading “Don’t Be a Fossil Fool” partially obscured by a polluted night sky. “It shows the pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the harm done to the planet,” Tinio says. “Little by little, we need to make changes in our daily lives to save our home.”

Tout a un coût (2020) by Samuel Prieto

Samuel Prieto finds inspiration in the visual language of anime for Tout a un coût (Everything Has a Price) (2020). The artist creates an American flag out of red, white, and blue lines of text, which spell out areas that the government controls, such as housing, transportation, and education. “The character’s orange skin and golden hair represent our 45th president, Donald Trump,” the artist says of his character at the center. “The president wearing superhero apparel with a red dollar sign conveys his control over the economy, while the text and title indicate the idea of inflation.”

Jossilete Serrano, Melting, 2020; © Jossilete Serrano

Melting (2020) by Jossilete Serrano

Jossilete Serrano’s Melting (2020) is both a warning about climate change and an optimistic call to action. “It was a challenge for me to practice something I don’t often draw,” says the artist, “…but I wanted to show something that was once beautiful now melting away.” Serrano chose to write her hopeful message on melting ice to establish a sense of urgency. “The chunks of iceberg melting symbolizes how we are running out of time,” Serrano says. “The opportunity for a greater future will melt too if we don’t do something about it now.” 

Rene Barba Lopez, Para de Separar las Familias, 2020; © Rene Barba Lopez

Para de Separar las Familias (2020) by Rene Barba Lopez 

Rene Barba Lopez examines family separation and U.S. immigration policy in Para de Separar las Familias (2020). The artist depicts an ominous, “demon-like” figure looming over a divided family. “The figure’s sharp tongue is out of its mouth, stopping the family from being together,” the artist says. Lopez also leverages data drawn from The Washington Post to strengthen her political critique.