Sunday, 11 November 2007

Political posters

I've always been quite interested in political propaganda, and posters in particular. Apart from the print of a Spanish civil war poster I used to have on the wall, I've also got quite a few books on the the subject ranging from British trade union posters, to Spanish civil war posters (from both sides, or should that be 'all sides'), to murals from Northern Ireland.

So I was interested to see that the Imperial War Museum has an exhibition on currently, entitled Weapons of Mass Communication, featuring dozens of wartime propaganda posters, so we went along today for a look. The exhibition is really just a collection of posters, but it is a very comprehensive one and I was impressed by the range of them, including some Austro-Hungary posters from WW1. Though surprisingly there were no Japanese posters from WWII.

A few things struck me about the posters. First, the American WWII ones looked by far the most modern, in terms of the type of imagery used. Here are a couple of examples that I thought were quite good.

And here's another US propaganda poster that will probably raise a smile.

The British posters were quite sophisticated in terms of design, but they played on quite 'imperial' themes. The soviet posters were also quite traditional. Although the USSR often went a bit Avant Garde in its domestic propaganda, the wartime ones on show here were pretty basic.

Secondly, it was interesting to see how many of the posters had a focus on domestic production and finance in support of the war. There were quite a few posters picturing workers alongside soldiers, or calling for more sacrifice on the home front. There were also loads calling on the public to buy war bonds. It would be interesting to see what similar posters would look like nowadays when so few of us work in industries that actually make things. Being more productive on the home front would have to involve calls to "Make more phone calls" or "Send more emails". Equally bonds are a bit old hat aren't they? These days we would be called upon to "trade war derivatives" or "Arbitrage conflict-based mispricings".

As an aside, the only poster on show I could see with any union affiliation was one issued by the anarcho-syndicalist CNT during the Spanish civil war.

Finally, the exhibition includes some more recent posters, including anti-war ones. In addition to anti Viet Nam war posters there were also some interesting ones from Northern Ireland issued by People's Democracy. And the most recent posters relate to Iraq. Included in this last batch were this rather excellent "Make Tea Not War" poster that I saw on the big anti-war demo back in 2003.

But more interesting was the poster below from Iraq itself. This is one of the few political posters I have seen from Iraq. Most of the posters we tend to see are made by people in the UK, about the actions of the UK government. In contrast, this Iraqi poster calls on the public to report local armed nutters to the authorities.

Given that it comes from the area where the conflict is taking place, it's a far more interesting poster to me. And because of the context it has a much more similar feel to wartime propaganda posters than the anti-war examples.

Anyway, it's an interesting exhibition, and worth a visit.

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