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Power of the Poster: International Poster Exhibition Opens at Ohio Northern University

The Graphic ImperativePosters make ideas for social change publicly visible and accessible by recording struggles for peace, justice and liberation from oppression for all peoples and the environment. These messages of anger, determination, courage and hope cross borders of time and place. They become crucial weapons in humanity’s fight for rights. Some have become icons that have changed the way we view our institutions, our world and ourselves.

The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice and the Environment, 1965-2005, a traveling exhibition, is on view in the Elzay Gallery of Art and the Stambaugh Studio Theatre Gallery from March 16–April 30, 2009 at Ohio Northern University. The Graphic Imperative showcases 121 strident and seductive works that have collaboratively come together from 40 years of design culture and history, representing 22 countries from around the world, all focusing on overwhelming global issues.

This exhibition of socio-political posters provides a window to an age of change, utilizing the power of visual metaphor and at times, savage irony and humor. Themes from the past four decades embodied in the exhibit include solidarity, liberation, racism, sexism, human rights, civil rights, environmental concerns, AIDS, war, literacy and tolerance. Noted in the show, French graphic designer Pierre Bernard, stated that, “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.”

ImageCurators Elizabeth Resnick and Chaz Maviyane-Davies of the Massachusetts College of Art and Philadelphia University’s Frank Baseman have selected the work, endeavoring to show the social, political and aesthetic concerns of many cultures in a single exhibition. The works chosen are conceptually strong yet have a direct message while embodying and reasserting the value of a particular way of imparting a point of view to the public. Hilary Jay, director of the Design Center at Philadelphia University states, “You look at a beautiful vase or sculpture, and you say, ‘It’s really pretty, but is there something bigger here?’ And these posters really do that.”

“Designers are taught to be master manipulators of visual language,” says Resnick. “As such, designers have a social and ethical responsibility to create and transmit meaningful forms of communication to benefit our society and culture. The Graphic Imperative exhibition is the physical embodiment of this design philosophy—yet its content is universally understood by all people.”

Many of the posters and images are direct and clever, raising questions about the methodology of visual advocacy. Several questions have been raised about the exhibition such as “Why posters? Why illustrations? Why photography? Why no text? Why only text?” The only way to answer these questions is to see the exhibition.

The public reception for The Graphic Imperative is Friday, April 24 from 5–7p.m. in the Elzay Gallery lobby at Ohio Northern University, Wilson Art Center, Gilbert Street. The essayists who contributed to the gallery guide will be introduced, thanked and presented a gift for their contribution to the gallery guide. They also will have an opportunity to share their opinions and talk about the issues these posters bring to the foreground. Elizabeth Resnick, The Graphic Imperative curator and 2007 AIGA Boston Fellow recipient, will then present a short lecture on visual advocacy in education and the curation of the exhibit followed by a question and answer session.

An 80-page color exhibition catalog is available for purchase at the Elzay Gallery of Art. Checks in the amount of $27 should be payable to Massachusetts College of Art. Also, the ONU gallery guide is available at the gallery free of charge. Essayist include Dr. Anne Lippert, vice president for academic affairs; Prof. Nils Ries, chair and professor of communication arts; Prof. Brit Rowe, chair and assistant professor of art & design; Dr. M.J. Zank, professor of music; Dr. Suzanne Morrison, associate professor of religion; Prof. Melissa Eddings-Mancuso, associate professor of art & design; and Prof. Raymond Schuck, visiting assistant professor of history and museum studies.

Admission to the Elzay Gallery of Art and the Stambaugh Studio Theatre Gallery is free and open to the public, daily from noon to 5p.m. The Stambaugh Gallery also is open prior to Freed Center events. For more information about the exhibition, visit To schedule a tour or to be placed on the arts exhibition mailing list, please contact the department of art and design at (419) 772-2160 or

Ohio Northern offers both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with majors in advertising design, art education, graphic design and studio arts. The department of A&D holds memberships in national organizations such as the National Art Education Association, College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education and the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts. The department is recognized in the second edition of “Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers” as one of the top 200 creative programs nationwide. For additional information about the department of art & design, contact the department.

See images from the ONU Exhibition of The Graphic Imperative.