The Glasgow School of Art’s exhibition of Cuban Revolution Posters was poignant, beautiful and raised issues of contemporary political communication
When Fidel Castro announced to citizens of the Revolution, “our enemies are capitalists and imperialists, not abstract art,” he unleashed one of the most effective propaganda beasts known to man.
The bold and provoking Posters of the Cuban Revolution at Glasgow School of Art has unfortunately come to an end, however the creative and political techniques used to create the 70-plus works offer post-Referendum Scotland an empowering if bitterly nostalgic message.
Placing an internationalist perspective at the heart of every poster shows the magnitude of Cuba’s agenda. It is a direct reference to Lenin’s theory, where socialism prevails only if performed on a global scale. With this in mind, the Organisation in Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia and Latin America (OSPAAL) – the political body founded in 1968 who commissioned the decades-old posters involving graphic designers, printers and artists alike – waged a visual war against their capitalist aggressors. It is one of few fights that can be described as beautiful, and starts with a multilingual significance. From captions written in Spanish, English, French and Arabic to illustrations of citizens of every colour, age and gender, Posters of the Cuban Revolution signpost their universal goal.
This intentionally dangerous side-effect suspends the audience’s morals from midair. Just like René Mederos’ 1971 print of President Dick Nixon ripping the heart out of Cambodia, it serves as a global representation of political plight, the one which entices the underdog to break from his master’s chains. The background uses a thin, parchment-esque map to pinpoint Cuba’s confrontation in the country. Nixon, depicted as a vulture soaring over the anaemic Asian land, grips the bloody red organ with crawling talons as his nutty head peeps from the predator’s body. It’s militant; it’s guerilla-like yet it shows little more than what’s acceptable today. Does this prove Cuba was ahead of its time? Not necessarily, but the image highlights the frightening and uncompromising nature of OSPAAL in delivering their anti-Capitalist message.
It should be recognised that these Posters are not a stand alone feature, rather they are part of the wider propaganda project which used traditional print media, like the internationally circulated magazine Tricontinental. Could today’s equivalent for the accompanying role be Twitter and Facebook? Undoubtedly so. The combined efforts relied on a pro-art government. And as the popularity of graphic-based and scorchingly bright images grew, Castro and leaders involved in OSPAAL began to fund the silk screening print methods, which created the perfect finesse for their scathingly apt show.
Adorning the walls of the Reid Gallery were the palpable faces of Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, pharaohs, tribesmen, spiritual gods and most importantly ordinary people nursing the wounded. The photographic quality is almost surreal, and proves a vital component throughout the exhibition. Of course, there are depictions of American soldiers looking less than glorified: military uniform cut to represent a shooting range’s target while the man’s face snarls expectantly.
Even the posters without severely explicit intention – the simple graphics, happy colours and DIY undertone – are equally and sometimes more disturbing. Standing before a pure black backdrop is the curved stick figure of a solider bearing arms. The orange-peel velocity of his stance, narrow lime green eyes and bandy, unsymmetrical legs exude a menacing and realistic message.
Like the Medero’s work, the wealth of Posters of the Cuban Revolution combine astounding graphics, explicit text, harrowing images and a conflictingly creative abutment of post-modern positioning. Pop Art vibrancy seeps from the sheets while sharp lines separating fore and backgrounds would be better placed in the doorways of Glasgow’s music shops. This undeniable resemblance to the Avante Garde is emblematic yet ideologically difficult to comprehend. If art transcends morals, where does that leave Posters of the Cuban Revolution?
By Franchesca Hashemi, The Skinny
November 10, 2014