Library poster exhibit features art of labor movements
Stephen Lewis has collected over 30,000 posters from labor and activist movements around the world, and not one is a duplicate. During a recent visit to France, a local labor union gave him 110 unique posters.
“That’s called international solidarity in the labor movement,” said Lewis, a mental health worker for the state.
That solidarity can be seen at the Wareham Free Library from now until Tuesday, May 30, with a portion of Lewis’s poster collection on display in the library’s meeting room.
The exhibition is in honor of May Day, or International Workers’ Day, which is celebrated on May 1 in over 100 countries.
To Lewis, the posters demonstrate not only the international scope of labor movements, but the talent and artistry that goes into labor messaging as well.
“These posters were created by graphic artists, it's an art,” Lewis said. “For people who are into art, they have a chance to see this art that’s... quite different.”
The posters hail from many countries, including France, Namibia, Pakistan and Mexico. Many of them were created within the last two decades.
“I’m a proponent of appreciating internationalism,” Lewis said. “People understanding what things are like in other countries. If people know about unions in this country, they should know there’s unions in Iraq, there’s unions in Iran, unions in England… We’re not unique.”
Placards next to the posters explain their origins and contents. Some of the posters advertise specific demands of the unions during the time of publication, such as a French poster from 2016 asking people to mobilize for retirement and work laws, a fight that continues to this day. A Scottish poster from 2013 demands living wages and threatens a strike. A Danish poster from 2017 reads “[A] single person can do something — together we can do more.”
Lewis, who lives in the Boston area, was a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 509. He began collecting posters while at a labor conference in Moscow, then the capital of the Soviet Union. Attendees brought posters from their home countries, and Lewis grabbed one of each.
Since then, Lewis, a frequent traveler, has tried to collect union and activism posters from politically progressive organizations across the globe. In the past four years, he began exhibiting the posters at libraries across the state, from Watertown to Worcester, from Holyoke to Pembroke.
In other towns, Lewis has created poster exhibitions on Black leaders, human rights, anti-war protests, feminist movements and labor strikes, to name a few. Lewis said he wants to share the art with the world and educate people about the movements in the process.
“People go to libraries to read books and learn,” Lewis said, “and this is a way to learn in a different fashion.”
Lewis is currently working with the University of Massachusetts Boston to digitize and archive his entire collection posters so his work “will live on.”
Those interested in learning more about his posters can sign up for his online newsletter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Wareham Cultural Council, Roofers Local 33 of Stoughton, Painters District Council 35 of Roslindale, Laborers Local 1249 of Falmouth and Asbestos Workers Local 6 of Boston.