What Did Asian American Resistance Look Like in the 1970’s?

A new collection of artwork highlights art and political resistance in San Francisco.

By Hatty Lee Mar 04, 2011

Recently, 170 images of posters, artwork and photographs that documented San Francisco’s Asian and Pacific community during the 1970s and ’80s have been contributed by the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at UC Santa Barbara. The artwork documented much of the work of Kearny Street Workshop, which was founded in 1972 in San Francisco. KSW is the oldest multidisciplinary Asian American arts organization in the country and continues to be a home for many API artists and activist in the Bay Area. Many Asian American artists who were associated with KSW combined art and activism, as is shown in many of the posters. But not all were necessarily political. Some were promoting social events and classes.

The posters chart some of the era’s major political events, like the fight to save the city’s iconic International Hotel and need to build more affordable housing in a region that rapidly become among the most expensive in the country.  As UCSB Art History Ph.D. candidate Julianne P. Gavino, who provided much of the metadata for the digital collection, states:

These posters depart significantly from the exoticized imagery of the neighborhoods common in the popular imagination, both then and now. They assert an identity and a message of empowerment, generated from within, that was part of something much larger–the era’s influential social movements.

Below is a sampling of the amazing artwork that came out of that period. You can view the  entire collection on Calisphere or the Online Archive of California.

Dupont Guy (1975)

Oshogatsu 1977 festival (artist: Mitsui Murai)

International Women’s Day celebration (1977)

Yes on U; saving the I-Hotel

Save International Hotel (1974-1976)

Pamana ’75 (heritage)