On Jan. 21, 2017, an estimated 200,000 protesters flocked to Boston Common for the inaugural Women’s March. Joined by sister marches happening in cities across the country, women and their allies hoisted signs decrying not only the election of President Donald Trump, but also the cultural and social climate that led to his shock victory.
Those signs, like the issues they represent, persist three years later. While many of them were discarded, recycled or saved by their maker, some 4,000 of them found their way to New York City, where they now wrap the walls of the recently opened Poster House museum in Chelsea. Coating the room in vibrant sections of pink, orange, yellow and purple, the carefully preserved signs capture the aspirations and boldness of the people who gathered at that first, record-breaking march.
According to Angelina Lippert, chief curator of Poster House, it’s by happenstance that the posters found their way to the museum. A group of librarians from Northeastern University noticed marchers laying down their signs like battle armor and scrambled to save them.
“They got a van and made a few runs, filling the van with as many posters as possible,” Lippert said. “After that, they sorted and photographed all of them for public record. I read about their efforts in a newspaper and contacted them offering the posters a more permanent home.”
The show “20/20 InSight” is the first presentation of the posters since the museum opened in June. In a few cases, the three-year-old signs prove to be prescient: “IMPEACH” is emblazoned on several. But the majority serve as a trenchant reminder of the slow churn of progress, such as those that decry support for climate protection, equal pay and universal healthcare.
“It’s rare that a protest of this magnitude, poster-wise, survives together,” said Melissa Walker, the collections manager for Poster House. “My hope is that people come away feeling more hopeful seeing these pieces and feel like there is work to be done.”
There is, perhaps surprisingly, some levity to the presentation. One section of the small room is dedicated exclusively to posters that repurposed humorous internet memes. Another is reserved for signs that demonstrate deft artistic skill. And, in a corner of the room, there’s a box where people can drop in their thoughts, reflections and feelings about the presentation.
Walker said the interactive portion is intended to help attendees contribute their own political commentary — a continuation of the work the protesters set out to do three years ago.
“It’s everyone’s voice, all at once,” she said.
The exhibition runs through Feb. 10. Take a virtual tour in the video above.