Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Steef Davidson 1943-2010

The sad news reached us that Steef Davidson passed away on the 31st of May, 2010. Besides being a participant in many alternative movements, both political and cultural, Steef was a passionate collector with whom the IISH was proud to have contacts since the 1970s.

Steef Davidson was born in Amsterdam, 1943, and grew up in a family where political commitment and artistic talents were widespread. His uncle was the artist Meijer Bleekrode, who designed posters for many left-wing organizations in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1960s, Davidson was absorbed in the budding alternative youth culture that led to Provo and other anti-authoritarian groups. Around 1970, his attention focused on the fight for the preservation of the Nieuwmarkt district, an area in the center of Amsterdam threatened with demolition for the construction of an underground railway. It was the starting point for Holland's squatters movement.

In his Provo days, Davidson started publishing leaflets and periodicals. In the Nieuwmarkt, he was co-founder of a collective workshop for printing and designing called De Vrije Zeefdrukker (The Free Silkscreen Printer). He published on anarchism, anti-parliamentarism and American Indians, and started to appear on stage as performing poet.

Besides publishing himself, Davidson also was eagerly collecting alternative and underground publications, especially comic strips and posters. His collection of underground comics led to the publication of Beeldenstorm. De ontwikkeling van de politieke strip 1965-1975 (Amsterdam 1978), published in English as The Penguin Book of political comics (Harmondsworth 1982). His poster collection was exhibited in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum (1981) and the Musée de l' affiche et de la publicité in Paris 1982. Catalogues were published under the title of De kunst van het protest/The art of protest 1965-1975 (Haarlem 1981) and Images de la révolte (Paris 1982). The largest part of this collection now rests with the IISH. Other pars of his collection came to the IISH through the Center of Social Documentation, originally at the Universtiy of Amsterdam. In the late 1970s, Davidson also carried out several trips to Southern Europe to collect posters for the IISH.

Without disregarding his political involvement, little by little Davidson's interest began to focus on avant-garde design. During the 1990s he devoted much of his time and energy to the Soviet poster, with its complete entanglement of political and artistic aspects. Davidson succeeded in bringing together a large collection of the highest quality, featuring the well-known highlights next to unknown masterworks by forgotten designers. The IISH was fortunate to exhibit a small selection of this outstanding collection in 1995.

In recent years, Davidson suffered from severe health problems. We remember him as an active, creative, many-sided and anti-dogmatic friend, as someone who preferred to think for himself, and who encouraged others to do the same. Our thoughts are with his relatives and friends.

Text: Marien van der Heijden

See also: Collected Memories by friends of Steef Davidson

11 June 2010