“Art is a way to tell stories,” says artist Ricardo Levins Morales. “If I’m asked to do work with any organizing campaign or union local, the first question I ask myself or try to figure out is what story do these workers think they’re a part of… and how does that story need to change for them to feel powerful in the workplace?”
Levins Morales cites the example of an organizing campaign using a health and safety poster he created to change the story. From “worker carelessness causes tragedy” the story became “under-staffing is causing tragedy” and “management is greedy.”
For 50 years, Levins Morales has created art helping to tell the story of labor and other social justice movements. His images can be found on posters, t-shirts, buttons — the tools of an organizing campaign — but rarely is his work seen on display in a gallery setting.
Now, an exhibit — “Another World is Possible: Five Decades of Revolutionary Art with Ricardo Levins Morales — showcases his work. The exhibit runs through November 22 at the offices of CTUL, 3715 Chicago Ave. So. , Minneapolis.
In a free program book available at the exhibit, Levins Morales writes: “Pieces that were once a real-time response to quickly changing conditions of struggle have matured into a kind of time capsule, memories on paper of moments in our collective movement’s past. But art does more than memorialize movements for change — it participates. I have had the honor of creating art that has helped win demands, build alliances and inspire action.”
“On the one hand, I’m always in relationship with and responding to new movements as they emerge,” Levins Morales says. “The other side of my art is to address issues that nobody is talking about.”
From 1979 to 2009, Levins Morales was a member of Minneapolis-based Northland Poster Collective. Since 2009, he has run his own storefront shop — RLM Art Studio — currently located at 3260 Minnehaha Ave. South in Minneapolis and online at rlmartstudio.com.
He and his five employees are members of the Minnesota Newspaper & Communications Guild/TNG CWA Local 37002.
Levins Morales participates in the Great Labor Arts Exchange — he has received their Joe Hill award — “to help unions understand the importance of using art and song and creativity, especially rank and file creativity.”
Levins Morales says the exhibit at CTUL is not about nostalgia. He hopes young activists of today can learn from and take inspiration from the movement history shared in the exhibit. As he writes in the program book, “the purpose of this exhibit is to look back so we can better look forward.”