At the end of August 2020, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York launched an exhibition of Jacob Lawrence entitled The American Struggle. This name refers to the series of paintings Lawrence made in the 1950s called Struggle: From the History of the American People: His aim was to represent the struggles of people to create a nation and to build democracy, beginning from European colonization until World War I. In the end, he completed thirty panels representing historical moments from 1775 through 1817.
The importance of showing Lawrence’s work resides in the inclusivity present in his paintings: the painter puts effort in showing women and people of color in his historical representations, changing therefore the usual national historical discourse. Painted in a period dominated by the Cold War and McCarthy’s communist hunt, these paintings also resonate with the Civil Rights movement, and actions they made such as the desegregation of schools. A reflexion on this particular context, Lawrence’s work is still relevant today in regard of the recent calls for racial justice, and questions about what makes a national identity.
Such a body of work doesn’t need much for an exhibition’s identity. Therefore, the identity consists in the sober use of a dark blue color, paired with Media Sans from Production Type for titles and Guardian Egyptian Text from Commercial Type for text, due to its great readability. Media Sans Semi Condensed grabs attention, although its use in a regular weight keeps a subtlety that the punchy bolder versions put aside. The density of the lowercase letters with their huge x-height and tight spacing mirror the density of colors and shapes in Jacob Lawrence’s paintings, where even the sea looks architectural. Besides, the impactful design of Media Sans, the retail version of Libé Sans, designed for the French newspaper Libération, can also evoke the evidence of the artist’s paintings and their inherent political scope.