& INTERNATIONALIST CULTURAL WORKERS"
BATTALION was a controversial activist artist collective
founded in the summer of 1982 by Los Angeles based visual
artist Mark Vallen. Born of the desire to confront
the tidal wave of conservatism sweeping the United States,
Shock Battalion placed itself at the vanguard of cultural
resistance to the so-called Reagan "revolution." In the
seven years of its existence, the Battalion produced dozens
of beautiful silkscreen street posters and offset litho
flyers, performed two multi-media anti-war slide shows,
acted out provocative guerrilla street theatre, produced
a monthly radio show on KPFK (L.A's Pacifica Station),
and mounted an important international anti-war art exhibition
held during the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.
to the late 1970's rightward sweep in mainstream US politics
and culture, a new rebellious youth movement bubbled beneath
the surface. Mark Vallen met Tim Strawn and Charlene
Hassencahl in the turbulent LA punk rock underground...
and soon they were all working together, the three becoming
the core members of Shock Battalion. The aesthetics that
imbued the Battalion were the same that galvanized the
punk movement. Angry and confrontational, full of rage
at an apathetic society and a refusal to accept "business
as usual," an early Shock Battalion tract put it this
art is political, it cannot stand above or beyond the
world crisis without automatically supporting the status
quo. The massacre of the innocent continues world-wide,
as does the arms race. Can the arts turn a blind eye without
taking sides? We don't believe the role of art should
be that of papering over the cracks of a dying regime.
We view the arts as a liberating force which can uplift,
inspire and show the way to a world at last inhabitable.
Cultural work is our practical plan of action for changing
Salvador will Win" Poster by Vallen
Charlene Hassencahl and Mark Vallen
had fine art backgrounds and were skilled professional
artists whose efforts helped to reintroduced the poster
into the realm of political struggle. The very first
poster of the 1980's specifically designed
to be posted on the streets of Los Angeles was Vallen's
full color silk screen poster,
El Salvador Vencera! (El Salvador will Win!). The
duo of Vallen and Hassencahl produced dozens of colorful
silk screen posters as well as many black and white xerox
flyer images. Much
of Shock Battalion's work focused upon the bloody war
unleashed in Central America by the Reagan administration,
but other topics became the target for the Battalion's
fire brand aesthetic. The arms race, homelessness, police
brutality, the oppression of women, US support for apartheid
in South Africa, all became issues that the Battalion
1985 the Reagan administration was openly supporting the
white racist apartheid regime in South Africa while the
people's hero, Nelson Mandela, languished in prison.
People all across the US reacted to this outrage by becoming
active in the movement for a free South Africa. The Battalion
played a key role in this massive outcry for freedom by
producing colorful anti-apartheid posters, flyers and
banners that were used in street demonstrations, protests
in front of South African embassies, student occupations
of universities, and other forms of protest. The bold
artistic vision of Shock Battalion was finally affirmed
with the liberation of Nelson Mandela, the total defeat
of apartheid and the victory of the South African freedom
Battalion strove for a visual art that was both anti-elitist
and democratic. The realm of the gallery and museum was
shunned in favor of the street, workplace, and school,
which were perceived as being much more appropriate exhibition
spaces. The group even rejected the appellation of "artist"
preferring instead to be called "cultural workers." Many
Shock Battalion creations were printed as multiples and
given away at no cost.... artworks were found posted to
street corner walls and lamp posts, exhibited in coffee
houses and bookstores, and carried as placards in virtually
every demonstration in LA.
South Africa" by Vallen
an open letter to grass roots activist organizations written
in the early 1980's, Shock Battalion posed the question:
role does art have in a movement for social change? We
live in an environment of visual images carefully constructed
to support the status quo, from the posters on every street
corner advertising the latest blood drenched Hollywood
war films, to Madison Avenue advertising art that seduces
with promises of power, excitement, fun and adventure.
We are bludgeoned with the visual messages of war hysteria
both subtle and overt. What can be offered to counter
this onslaught.... this culturcide? It is not enough simply
to hold a protest march, we must build a contentious culture.
It is imperative that artists have their rightful place
in the opposition. They have the vision and communication
skills to help capture the imagination of the people."
Shock Battalion Cultural Workers set the pace for
guerrilla art in Los Angeles during the storm and stress
of the 1980's. Its members created profound works of unparalleled
immediacy and vigor, artworks whose impact is still being
felt to this day. While the group never saw the vision
of its "transformed society" implemented (the group disbanded
in 1987 though Vallen still remains an active artist),
many important changes have occurred in the world since
Shock Battalion's demise. The group's legacy should be
that other individuals step forward in times of crisis
and embrace the ideals embodied in Shock Battalion's statement
has the ability to uplift, empower, motivate and educate.
If we are to have a different social order other than
the one we are presently miserable under, if we are to
become participants and not just observers, creators and
not mere consumers, then culture must be allowed to come
from the bottom up, not the other way around."
"Free South Africa" poster is available for
purchase in the Works
area of this website.