DESIGN IS A POWERFUL TOOL: poster artist speaks!

“Design is what we do and it’s a powerful tool that I use for a social cause.”

When you boil it all down, that is the message that Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson wants to get across. The Jamaican graphic designer, now an ‘artist without borders’ visited an exhibition of his reggae posters at the UWI Museum on April 18 and then spoke at the final in the 2013 series of Reggae Talks hosted by the university’s Department of Literatures in English.

Michael 'Freestylee' Thompson (left) with artist/academic Clinton Hutton.
Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson (left) with artist/academic Clinton Hutton.
'Freestylee' with guests at his lecture.
‘Freestylee’ with guests at his lecture.

Acknowledging his roots and especially the influence of Cuban post-revolutionary poster artists during a prize-winning trip to the World Festival of Youth & Students, Thompson flagged the ideas of awareness and solidarity as central to his creation of hundreds of posters; many of which can be seen online.

He said his work was about speaking out through social design, which is the combination of artistry and activism to call attention to important social issues and find solutions. In recent years he has been involved in a Haiti poster project that has involved artists in supporting the group Doctors Without Borders. Other causes include efforts to build wells and provide clean water for Liberia.

His other passion is reggae music and he has done over 200 posters chronicling or commenting on aspects of Jamaica’s home grown musical stylings that have also found resonance around the globe. He is especially supportive of the Alpha Boys Home which has produced many of Jamaica’s top musicians; and wants to see an outstanding Reggae Hall of Fame & museum, designed by a top-notch, socially driven architect like Frank Gehry, rising on Kingston’s waterfront.

Thanks to Bill Burnett for the photos from the lecture.

19 of Thompson’s reggae posters have been on exhibit at the UWI Museum – a celebration of the UWI’s popular culture aspect and especially the recent publication of a book on Global Reggae, edited by Literary & Culture professor Carolyn Cooper; out of presentations at a UWI International Reggae Conference.


Cave Hill @ 50: A Vision Realised. That’s what’s coming next at the UWI Museum, even as we continue to make the Reggae Poster exhibition available to visitors. Cave Hill is, of course, the University of the West Indies campus in Barbados.

A schedule for the rest of 2013 coming soon!



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