The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice and the Environment
“The poster is the prime field for experimenting with visual language. It is the scene of changing ideas and aesthetics, of cultural, social and political events.”
Pierre Bernard, French Graphic Designer
Posters make ideas for social change accessible by recording struggles for peace, justice and liberation from oppression for all peoples and the environment. Posters can celebrate important acts of resistance, providing alternative explanations, interpretations, narratives and myths through creativity. Posters are telling indications of the artists’ social commitment. Whether they communicate, exhort, persuade, instruct, celebrate, or warn, graphic posters still jar us to action through bold messages and striking iconography. Posters can become visible dissent.
The Graphic Imperative is a select retrospective of forty years of international sociopolitical posters. These prime examples of Agitprop stir our emotions and cause us to reflect. They utilize the powers of visual metaphor, and at times, savage irony and humor. The themes of dissent, liberation, racism, sexism, human rights, civil rights, environmental and health concerns, AIDS, war, literacy and tolerance provide a window to an age of great change.
These messages of anger, determination, courage and hope cross borders of time and place. They become crucial weapons in humanity’s struggle and have helped empower and propel important movements for social change. Some have become icons that have changed the way we view our institutions, our world and ourselves. Because graphic designers need to express their individual views about a cause or issue, their posters record their passion in a field that often prefers the bland.
Identifying, locating and compiling 121 posters from the numerous amount created during this period was not an easy task. However, we have endeavored to show the social, political and aesthetic concerns of many cultures in a single exhibition. In delineating themes and contrasting political realities, we hope to focus the issues of our turbulent times, as Cuban poster designer Raul Martinez stated: “by putting a graphic face on a movement.”
We have chosen work that is conceptually strong—yet with a direct message. All of the posters selected exhibit a combination of the following qualities: The work is innovative in some way. The work embodies and reasserts the value of a particular way of imparting a point of view to its public. The work is a highly accomplished example of its type in its discipline. The work is of lasting, rather than transitory, interest. The work contributes strongly to the context of the exhibition and reflects the vision of the three curators. The work exemplifies the exhibition’s key argument that creativity through graphic design is a force for cultural emancipation.
Most of the poster designers represented in this exhibition have generously donated their posters to the Massachusetts College of Art (while a few were lent by collectors). As a result of gathering this work from our contemporaries, this magnificent collection will remain intact as a resource for future generations of students, designers and scholars.