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'Cuba: Cold War Graphics' at the House of Illustration

Cuba: Cold War Graphics

27th September - 19th January 2020

Tickets - £8.80

Concessions - £5.50


‘For the peaceful and independent reunification of Korea’ Lázaro Abreu Padrón, 1969, OSPAAAL, The Mike Stanfield Collection

Popular memory of the Cuban Revolution often centres around the iconic image of Che Guevara. His portrait still can be commonly seen today without any contextual link to Cuba or Latin America and, despite its commercialisation, it undoubtedly still carries heavy political weight. Cuba: Cold War Graphics, goes beyond this, and showcases a ‘golden age’ of Cuban revolutionary art, by displaying 170 posters and magazines for the first time.

Other regimes that are often compared to Fidel Castro’s sought to officially quash artistic freedom, but this exhibition shows how the opposite was apparent in Cuba. Throughout the four rooms, the artworks displayed range from questionable depictions of indigenous populations, to rather wholesome images, like that of two children under a rainbow (see above). However, this particular image is an anomaly within the collection. Guns feature on almost all of the posters, in a variety of artistic ways, indicating the inherently violent message of the revolution. The final room of the exhibition plays an interview of the creators of the posters. Men and women who learned their trade in the capitalist advertisement industry now provide complete creative freedom to produce content for entirely different purposes. ‘This was guerrilla warfare,’ one artist says, conjuring images back to the original revolutionaries of the 1950s.

Alfredo Rostgaard, 1968, OSPAAAL, The Mike Stanfield Collection

In 1965, the first Tricontinental Conference was held in Havana, Cuba, bringing together delegates from across the globe, all of whom were sympathetic towards the revolutionary message. While this conference was never recreated, the Organisation of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAL) was born out of it. The Organisation aimed to promote ‘solidarity with the Third World people’s struggles, claims and most precious desires.’ They sought to achieve this by producing magazines and posters for an international audience. To maximise their audience base, content was produced in Spanish, French, English and Arabic.

The posters condemned apartheid in South Africa, fighting in Vietnam, and the presence of U.S military bases in Guantanamo Bay, all whilst showing solidarity with other organisations such as the Black Panther Party in the United States. Their collaborative and conversational relationship is explicit in the artwork.

Jésus Forjans Boade, 1969, OSPAAAL, The Mike Stanfield Collection.

Seeing the Cold War from this angle—one which stresses the plight of liberation movements—is truly unfamiliar and makes the exhibition a must for anyone interested in the war's history or art. Cuba: Cold War Graphics shows the international-facing and diverse nature of the movement. Often neglected by studies of the Cold War, Cuba displays impressive examples of art used for political persuasion across the world.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor