The Revolution: A Work in Print
What do a heavily-tattooed Lady Liberty, a snarling black panther, and a onesie that says The Revolution Will Not Be Pacified all have in common? A warehouse in West Philadelphia, and a Black woman with a vision that transcends beyond trendiness.
It was there, at Wooden Shoe Books, meticulously cataloging and absorbing every item on display, every protest poster on the wall, every menstrual cup in the inventory, that I saw her: A purple cat. She was disgruntled; her black-polished fingernails clawing at the air in frustration, her thick eyebrows furrowed, her teeth glaring with the same kind of shine that emanated from her nose stud and various bracelets. She yelled STOP within a cartoon bubble, but the message boomed past the penciled-in borders on the shirt: she was a cat against catcalling.
Albeit unnaturally pigmented, on the chunky side, with more piercings than my mom would ever allow me to have, and- just to state the obvious -feline, this purple cat was relatable. Almost too relatable. After walking back to Jefferson Station from South Street (from the homework assignment that would later become a full-fledged freelance article about the anarchist bookstore), I couldn’t stop thinking about her. It may have taken a few directed car honks, a window rolled down with someone yelling obscenities at me, or the two men calling out to me as I tried to just make it from Point A to Point B without an altercation: her fed-up snarl made me feel understood.
Later, when I would move back to Philadelphia to start my job, I would pass by The Wooden Shoe to find that cat again. She had come and gone like the Cheshire’s loopy grin, but in her place was another equally wondrous article of clothing: A roaring black panther, with bolts of neon lightning bursting from its eyes. The slogan accompanying the panther read a scrawled: NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. This time, I checked the logo before I closed the door behind me. A tiny circle with a megaphone, Philadelphia Printworks was blaring hard-truths, invigorating rally cries, and witticisms through the most simple of wardrobe staples; the revolution has found its way onto a cotton t-shirt.
Soon enough, I found myself bouncing from being utterly fascinated, to doing some intensely investigative fan-girling, to the front of the Philadelphia Printworks warehouse in West Philadelphia, being greeted by Maryam Pugh, the owner and co-founder. As the door opened and led up rickety stairs, an engulfing and pungent smell of wet ink wafted through the stale air, a physical manifestation of a work being in-progress.
Philadelphia Printworks is still a work “in-progress”. What first began as the fruit of a love for “DIY Culture” and social justice between Pugh and her co-founder, Ruth Perez, has become much more than just selling t-shirts (and, occasionally crop tops). For Pugh, Philadelphia Printworks was the creative and “impacting” outlet that she needed after feeling burnt-out from a decade in the computer science workforce. She and Perez started the small printing business in 2010, at 9th and Dauphin Street in North Philadelphia, but two years later, Perez left the venture and Pugh had to not only move the space around, but also amplify the breadth of Philadelphia Printworks’ engagement with the community.
So far, people in Philadelphia that know of the “clothing line” have been extremely receptive to the mission of wearing statements that spark conversations about dismantling intersectional oppressions and showing off designs that make space for marginalized communities, particularly space for POC (people of color). “People immediately gravitated toward our prints, because they showed something that they didn’t see everywhere, that was underrepresented, and it really struck a cord and resonated with them,” Pugh said proudly.
Pugh explained that it would be “very easy to just sell t-shirts”, but that isn’t the point of what they’re doing or why Philadelphia Printworks has been in business for seven years, selling shirts online, at The Wooden Shoe, at The Sable Collective, and even in Oakland, Brooklyn, and Harlem. The long-term goal is to create a world that is better for everyone, one captivating print at a time. But, obviously, these well-intentioned and idealistic goals can often be barred by obstacles rooted in reality and in our society, such as how genuinely exhausting it can be to constantly contribute to a project that delves into thorny social justice subjects, or how generally difficult it is to be a Black woman in The United States. Pugh says that these challenges “absolutely inform [her] perspective and the way that [she] navigates the world” and that she is “motivated” by her “civic duty”.
When I asked Pugh what she did for self-care, her sage pieces of advice included using a “dump-out” not “dump-in” methodology (in other words, don’t go to people with your problems who can’t handle your problems), logging-off, re-centering yourself, and spending time with loved ones outdoors- Pugh likes to go to the beach or go camping with her partner and her daughter.
Since its inception, Philadelphia Printworks has evolved into more than and beyond a clothing company. “PhilaPrint” has now become a community-focused and socially-driven entity that has a zine, a blog, and hosts numerous events: “These new components have come from the desire to have a conversation about the topics that our prints evoke, and to have a space where we can critique things, where we can push the conversation forward… I think with activism there’s dialogue, but there’s also praxis, and you can’t have meaningful change without both. We want to create a space, both on the web and here, where people can congregate and feel comfortable” Pugh explained.
Philadelphia Printworks’ “Zine Distro Curator & Manager” is Jessica Rodriguez, an Afro-Latina based in Oakland, California. She began working for PhilaPrint about a year ago, and fell in-love with being able to provide a platform for voices that typically go unheard-of in mainstream media, which has been particularly rewarding and important to her during this hectic political climate. Curating and managing a zine “rooted in activism”, means providing an open and safe space to support “POC artists navigating living in a White Supremacist capitalist system” by sharing their stories, their art, and ultimately by spreading the message of inclusivity, awareness, and activism that PhilaPrint was founded upon:
“Being a part of the team has made me challenge a lot of socially ingrained rhetoric that a lot of POC must unlearn- things like colorism, internalized racism, etcetera), and I strongly believe that one cannot fully free themselves of problematic cultural and societal ideals without questioning how they themselves uphold these beliefs. I can confidently say that working for the team, alongside so many incredibly brilliant artists, writers, and thinkers, has made me hyper-aware and very conscious about the ways that I navigate myself in White America today. I think this is the message we wish to share with our audience as well”, Rodriguez commented on her experience.
Other than expanding the reach of Philadelphia Printworks in terms of geography and in content production, the venture has moved away from being reactive, and has directed its artistic collaborations and blatant social justice mantras towards a more proactive approach to dismantling intersectional systems of oppression. This has been accomplished by focusing on bringing to light topics that are worthy of attention, or reveal hypocrisies and inconsistencies in our society. Pugh’s favorite print is that very same black panther with the electrical storm spurting from its eyes that I saw at The Shoe in July: No Justice No Peace, while Rodriguez’s has been Fuck It Up Sis, a collaboration done with artist Brittany Burton. Other notable mentions go to Ningun Ser Humano Es Ilegal, a protesting (and, pretty badass) Lady Liberty marching with a gripped sign declaring No Ban, No Wall!, and the entirety of The School of Thought collection. And, of course, the purple cat.
You can stay caught up with ever-evolving Philadelphia Printworks by checking out their website, their Facebook page, and their Instagram account. A portion of the proceeds that the shop earns goes towards different organizations, both local and national, such as Black Yoga Teacher’s Alliance Scholarship Fund, Pussy Division, Assata’s Daughters, Feed South Central, and more.