Much of Cuba’s iconic graphic design is instantly recognisable the world over. You can find it on posters, t-shirts, even hats. But alongside the familiar image of Che Guevara, Cuban artists have produced uncompromising design and illustration to deliver Cuba’s revolutionary message around the world. These works have rarely been seen – until now.
This September, House of Illustration in London will open the first major exhibition of graphic design from Cuba’s "golden age". Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics will bring together work distributed across the globe by OSPAAAL: Fidel Castro’s Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America, an organisation founded to promote cooperation between socialist countries and liberation movements.
From 1966 until the present day, its designers in Havana have produced hundreds of posters and magazines that express solidarity with America’s Black Panther Party, condemned apartheid in South Africa and the Vietnam War and celebrated Latin America’s revolutionary icons. Some of their messages, such as criticism of U.S. military bases in Guantanamo Bay and support for the unity of North and South Korea, remain pertinent today.
Throughout the Cold War, artists including Alfredo Rostgaard, Helena Serrano, Rafael Enríquez and Jane Norling produced provocative posters and bold editorial design for Tricontinental, an illustrated magazine that featured articles by radical public figures, both expected – like Che Guevara and Malcolm X - and unexpected, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Jane Fonda.
On display will be 185 of these works produced by 33 designers, many of them women. All were created between 1965 and 1992, reframing the familiar story of the Cold War through a wholly unfamiliar angle. Their work – revolutionary in both style and substance – stands as a prime example of art for political persuasion.
Exhibition curator Oliva Ahmad says: "The boldness and range of approaches to design in this collection is astonishing. Although these artists were designing to express the political ideology of one nation, they weren’t limited to one aesthetic; their work is marked by extraordinary freedom to experiment. Visitors will see everything from bold typography and photomontage to psychedelic colours and pop culture-inspired graphics. These posters and magazines don’t just represent exemplary design – they also provide a fascinating record of the global ideological conflicts of the 20th century."
Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics launches on 27 September at House of Illustration, 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London N1C 4BH. It will run until 19 January 2020.