If you’ve participated in or watched any protests in Chicago this year, chances are you’ve seen a banner from the Protest Banner Lending Library. From the Women’s March to the Chicago Trans Liberation March, borrowers have hoisted the library's banners at gatherings across the city since the collection began late last year.
Founder Aram Han Sifuentes, an immigrant from South Korea, made the first banner for what would become the lending library after the 2016 presidential election. Bold black letters spell out "DUMP TRUMP” on a turquoise fabric patterned with pugs and rimmed with golden fringe. Feeling inspired, more banners followed.
“I was making these banners, but I didn’t feel comfortable using them myself because at the time I wasn’t a citizen. And as a mother of a small child, I felt like [a protest] wasn’t a safe space for me,” says Sifuentes, who teaches fiber arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “The act of protest is a privilege … lot of people in the immigrant community can’t participate in that way because of their legal status.” She wanted to create a space for others, like herself, to participate in the marches without taking to the streets. Plus, she wanted to make sure that the banners were used.
Sifuentes started holding banner-making workshops at home with her friends, and hosted her first public workshop at the Logan Square Comfort Station in November 2016. That same month, she unofficially launched the library, and people started checking them out for their intended use.
The collection has grown to more than 160 banners—the bulk of which are donated from workshop attendees or other local artists. Sifuentes says at least one banner is loaned out each week.
The library is currently not on display (most recently, it appeared at Alphawood Gallery) but people can see images here and message the library's Facebook page to check one out. Sifuentes can even make suggestions if you tell her what kind of banner you're looking for.
Sifuentes heads to London in January to host a banner-making workshop as part of the Design Museum's Beazleys Design of the Year awards, where the lending library is also nominated in the graphics category. She and frequent collaborators Verónica Casado Hernández, Ishita Dharap, and Tabitha Anne Kunkes have big plans to expand the idea nationally in 2018. They're working with the Asian Arts Institute in Philadelphia and the School of Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston to launch their own Protest Banner Lending libraries, while organizations in Los Angeles and St. Louis have expressed interest as well.
“These projects are important,” Sifuentes says. “It shows that we are fighting together, and we are united and present in our resistance.”
Here are some of the best banners selected by the founder of the Protest Banner Lending Library.