“We are Free America! We will be in Chicago. Begin preparations now! Chicago is yours! Do it!”

Festival of Life, 1968

This work is from the portfolio Conspiracy: The Artist as Witness, which was made in response to the arrest and indictment of the Chicago Seven on charges of conspiracy and inciting to riot following the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

“Festival of Life” flyer (1968) and Protest Poster over the jailing of the Chicago 8

The protests, which were originally conceived of as a “Festival of Life” organized by the Yippie movement, took place in Lincoln Park during the last week of August in 1968. They were largely aimed at protesting President Johnson's policies around the Vietnam War and by August 27th, the peaceful protests had led to outbreaks of violence, bringing eight protesters and eight police officers to trial. All of the protesters were eventually acquitted of the charges, including Bobby Seale, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, though they did serve time for being in contempt of court.

Protests in Chicago's Lincoln Park during the 1968 Democratic National Convention

This particular work by wife and husband, Nancy Spero and Leon Golub, alludes to Bobby Seale's treatment during the trial, where he was chained, bound and gagged for several days at the judge's orders. Spero began her Codex Artaud series in 1971, after connecting with Antonin Artaud's work through her anger over the Vietnam War. 

The Conspiracy portfolio also included works by Alexander Calder, Sol LeWitt and Romare Bearden.

I wanted to make manifestos in response to the war, anti-war work...the violence of the war to the violence of the exposed self...I'd tear and repair paper. I also wrote with my left hand while I scavenged irregularly through [Artaud's] writings, cutting images and language, collaging, recombining...the pieces looked like huge blackmail notes. Angry letters to the world. I joined Artaud in his assault.

Nancy Spero