cuban revolutionary posters (1960's-1970's)


 May Day. All with Fidel on the Square of the Revolution, CTC, 1964

Even as revolutions have lost the appeal they used to have in the 1960’s, one can still say that the Cuban Revolution was extremely popular all over the world. In fact, one can compare the Revolution to Pop art. They are both mass-driven movements.  The new communist ideology considered advertising a sort of "Capitalist tool" for commercialization, a perverse form of Capitalist "brainwashing."

This apparent dislocation between advertising –adapting to the new times– and propaganda needs to be discussed further, and we don't have time to go into it right now. Suffice to say that they sometimes overlap. But in Cuba in the early 1960's propaganda was yet to find a true voice. But let’s go back a little. In 1959 the ICAIC: The Cuban Institute for Cinematographic Art and Industry and La Casa de las Américas (House of the Americas were founded).

By 1961 the Government eliminated ads in radio, television and the press. Aesthetic prejudices and strong debates also occurred, but design succeeded in general in imposing its freedom of expression and the creators were respected. The Revolution brought a profound transformation of Cuban society. Social communication was deeply affected by these changes and graphic design becomes the ideal medium for propaganda.

Since the mid ‘60s, the ICAIC posters had the same format (52 x 76 cm) and technique (serigraphy) plus a group of prolific creators (Bachs, Azcuy, Ñiko and Reboiro being the leading ones), which contributed to make them a consistent group of promotional graphics that remained in existence for several decades.

Casa de las Américas, in turn, created in 1960 the journal of the same name, in which Umberto Peña worked with great creativeness from 1965 until the late 1980s.

Umberto Peña, Piiii, 1968.

Umberto Peña maintained his links with Casa for more than twenty years, in a creator-entity relationship that may be considered one of the most fruitful in the history of Cuban design, perhaps only to be compared with that of Eduardo Muñoz Bachs and his posters with ICAIC. With the large number of media designed by him, Peña contributed to Casa de las Américas what today we would call a corporative visual identity.

E. Muñoz Bachs, Mobile cinema, 1969

R. Martínez, Lucia, 1968

Oliva, Sao Paulo sociedad anónima, ICAIC, 1966

Bachs? Cerro pelado, ICAIC, 1966

Antonio Reboiro, Julieta de los espíritus, ICAIC, 1967

At its highest point the printing industry reached annual figures of 700 titles and 50 million copies, in a country with a population of around 7 million. The number of newspapers had decreased but the magazines proliferated and the new publishing houses created a varied range of book collections. The poster production shot up tremendously, with the largest part in terms of figures concentrated in three entities: ICAIC, COR and CNC, that is, film, political propaganda and cultural promotion posters (excluding movies).

These political posters presented the idea in novel forms. Either assimilating autoctonous forms as in the anonymous poster below:

International week of solidarity with Africa, 1968, OSPAAL

Felix Beltrán, Freedom for Angela Davis, 1971
Or as in this vulture-like Nixon, with an obvious influence of Jan Lenika:
René Mederos, Nixon,  OSPAAAL, 1971

By way of example it can be said that when ICAIC celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1979, an exhibition was organized with the impressive title 1000 Cuban Film Posters (oddly, the most represented years were the final ones of the 65-75 decade: 1974 with 171 pieces and 1975 with 125; as to the authors, 284 posters by Eduardo Muñoz Bachs were selected). In lack of advertising, there was an increase of public welfare campaigns in which new media such as city billboards and portfolios remarkably grew in importance.

Although for many years Cuba was an isolated country and the change that took place in these years had endogenous foundations, external influences should not be ignored. In 1964 Tadeusz Jodlowski, professor at the Higher Academy of Fine Arts of Warsaw traveled to Cuba to give a course to the CNC designers. This first direct meeting with the Polish school of design –so different from the U.S. aesthetic codes in vogue in Cuba since the ‘50s– was useful for the young local creators.

What are the influences of the Cuban poster?

Fangor Wojciech, Bezkresne horyzonty, Horizons sans fin, 1958

 Franciszek Starowieyski, Kochanek, Lekki bol, Harold Pinter, 1970

Thomas Swierzy, Jimi Hendrix, 1973

Wes Wilson, mid 1960's

Umberto Peña, Damas, 1966

Alfredo Rostgaard, Cimarron, ICAIC, 1969

Clary (Clara García), Las secretas intenciones, ICAIC, 1970

Bachs, Dos almas en pugna, ICAIC, 1973

 Raul Martinez, Fidel, ICAIC, 1968

Luis Vega, El dominio del fuego, OSPAAL, 1972

Bachs, Siete novias para un soldado, ICAIC, 1973

Bachs, Cines móviles en la escuela rural, ICAIC, 1973

René Azcuy, Besos robados, ICAIC, 1970
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