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17 May 2013 | By: Zoe Craig

Propaganda: A Very Persuasive Show At The British Library

Propaganda: A Very Persuasive Show At The British Library
Over four million copies of this poster were printed between 1917 and 1918, after the US entered World War I. Because of its enormous and enduring popularity, the image was adapted for use in World War II and has been satirised in anti-war propaganda during the Vietnam War and later conflicts. James Montgomery Flagg (artist), I want You for US army. c.1917. Loan courtesy of Anthony d’Offay, London
Over four million copies of this poster were printed between 1917 and 1918, after the US entered World War I. Because of its enormous and enduring popularity, the image was adapted for use in World War II and has been satirised in anti-war propaganda during the Vietnam War and later conflicts. James Montgomery Flagg (artist), I want You for US army. c.1917. Loan courtesy of Anthony d’Offay, London
This enormous portrait of Napoleon was painted to inspire loyalty and intimidate critics at a time when the emperor’s power was declining and France was besieged on all sides. The painting was originally hung in the Council Hall of Montpellier but less than a year later, with Napoleon defeated, the painting was removed and returned to the artist with the bill unpaid. Napoleon, J. B Borely, 1813
This enormous portrait of Napoleon was painted to inspire loyalty and intimidate critics at a time when the emperor’s power was declining and France was besieged on all sides. The painting was originally hung in the Council Hall of Montpellier but less than a year later, with Napoleon defeated, the painting was removed and returned to the artist with the bill unpaid. Napoleon, J. B Borely, 1813
This unusual commemorative fan links the well-being of the nation with the health of the King with the phrase ‘Health is restored to ONE and happiness to millions.’ George III had recovered from one of his recurring bouts of illness and the fan was issued as part of efforts to re-establish his authority. On the King’s Happy Recovery. 1789. Loan courtesy of the Museum of London
This unusual commemorative fan links the well-being of the nation with the health of the King with the phrase ‘Health is restored to ONE and happiness to millions.’ George III had recovered from one of his recurring bouts of illness and the fan was issued as part of efforts to re-establish his authority. On the King’s Happy Recovery. 1789. Loan courtesy of the Museum of London
In World War I, the Parliamentary War Savings Committee used existing party-political networks to raise funds from the British public. This poster uses a simple design to show a direct link between savings and military success. The use of a five shilling piece provides added impact, as it carries the image of St George slaying a dragon. Parliamentary War Savings Committee. Lend your five shillings to your country and crush the Germans. London, 1915
In World War I, the Parliamentary War Savings Committee used existing party-political networks to raise funds from the British public. This poster uses a simple design to show a direct link between savings and military success. The use of a five shilling piece provides added impact, as it carries the image of St George slaying a dragon. Parliamentary War Savings Committee. Lend your five shillings to your country and crush the Germans. London, 1915
War bond stamps could be mass produced and circulated widely. Liberty provided a symbol that would be understood anywhere in the United States. The theme of “freedom imperilled” deflected from discussion of the rationale for joining the war. National War Savings Committee. Paper bags with war savings messages. c.1916.
War bond stamps could be mass produced and circulated widely. Liberty provided a symbol that would be understood anywhere in the United States. The theme of “freedom imperilled” deflected from discussion of the rationale for joining the war. National War Savings Committee. Paper bags with war savings messages. c.1916.
Painted when Mao was 74, this image shows an event almost half a century earlier. Mao is shown as a young man striding to single handedly win victory in the 1922 miners' strike at Anyuan. It is believed to be the most reproduced painting anywhere in the world, with more than 900 million copies made. The painting was declared a “model” of Cultural Revolution art and the themes ideology contained within it played a significant role in influencing Mao’s personality cult. Chairman Mao goes to Anyuan, Liu Chunhua, 1967. OR 5896
Painted when Mao was 74, this image shows an event almost half a century earlier. Mao is shown as a young man striding to single handedly win victory in the 1922 miners' strike at Anyuan. It is believed to be the most reproduced painting anywhere in the world, with more than 900 million copies made. The painting was declared a “model” of Cultural Revolution art and the themes ideology contained within it played a significant role in influencing Mao’s personality cult. Chairman Mao goes to Anyuan, Liu Chunhua, 1967. OR 5896
This scarf shows a map demonstrating London’s endurance in the face of German bombing. Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches’ quote and American broadcaster, Ed Murrow’s, famous exultation ‘London can take it!’, run alongside a map of bomb sites. Nicol V. Gray, London has taken it! London can take it again! (rayon scarf). c.1942. Loan courtesy of the Museum of London.
This scarf shows a map demonstrating London’s endurance in the face of German bombing. Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches’ quote and American broadcaster, Ed Murrow’s, famous exultation ‘London can take it!’, run alongside a map of bomb sites. Nicol V. Gray, London has taken it! London can take it again! (rayon scarf). c.1942. Loan courtesy of the Museum of London.
This slogan has been used in Britain since World War II, featuring most recently in swine flu prevention campaigns. From its inception, the NHS included a mission to improve health through the prevention of disease. One way of achieving this was through public health campaigns focusing on personal responsibility. Those who failed to heed advice were characterised as a public menace. He’s a public enemy c.1960
This slogan has been used in Britain since World War II, featuring most recently in swine flu prevention campaigns. From its inception, the NHS included a mission to improve health through the prevention of disease. One way of achieving this was through public health campaigns focusing on personal responsibility. Those who failed to heed advice were characterised as a public menace. He’s a public enemy c.1960
In this Soviet poster, New York’s famous Statue of Liberty is parodied as a look-out tower for the American police to observe its people, mocking the idea that it is a symbol of freedom. The poster attacks and subverts American propaganda that promoted the idea of the democratic freedom of the West. B. Prorokov, Freedom American-style. Moscow, 1971.
In this Soviet poster, New York’s famous Statue of Liberty is parodied as a look-out tower for the American police to observe its people, mocking the idea that it is a symbol of freedom. The poster attacks and subverts American propaganda that promoted the idea of the democratic freedom of the West. B. Prorokov, Freedom American-style. Moscow, 1971.
Coalition commanders circulated packs of playing cards to the US-led forces invading Iraq in 2003 to enable troops to identify and capture prominent members of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The cards served a practical purpose but also sent a message about the extent and quality of the Coalition’s intelligence, and its willingness to seek out Iraqi leaders. The tactic was first used during the American Civil War (1861–65). Intelligence Agency of United States, Iraq War Playing Cards. 2003. Loan courtesy of David Welch.
Coalition commanders circulated packs of playing cards to the US-led forces invading Iraq in 2003 to enable troops to identify and capture prominent members of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The cards served a practical purpose but also sent a message about the extent and quality of the Coalition’s intelligence, and its willingness to seek out Iraqi leaders. The tactic was first used during the American Civil War (1861–65). Intelligence Agency of United States, Iraq War Playing Cards. 2003. Loan courtesy of David Welch.

How many of your “five a day” have you had so far today? Did you avoid running for your train in the rain last night, knowing the station floor might be slippery? Or maybe you felt a twinge of nationalism handing over the Queen’s smiley face on a fiver for your morning coffee? Propaganda, it seems, is everywhere. The British Library’s new exhibition provides an exploration of the persuasive power of this state tool, looking at examples from ancient Rome to the present day.

Curators at this impressive new show have taken what they describe as a “neutral” definition of the word, embracing all activity by the state to influence behaviour, whether for good or evil. So, alongside troubling posters from Nazi Germany and Northern Ireland in the 1980s are gentler examples of state persuasion about the benefits of drinking milk and adhering to the Green Cross Code. Chairman Mao’s much-reproduced mythology is analysed, as are uses of the Olympic Games (in London and elsewhere) as a method of promoting national identity.

While the main focus of the exhibition is on propaganda since World War I, there are examples from earlier in history: a coin from the third century BC; a huge portrait of Napoleon; and a curious fan from the reign of George III.

Of the 200-odd items on display, around 80% are from the Library itself. But rather than an exhibition of various tantalising books in cases, Propangada: Power and Persuasion instead features a plethora of posters, paintings, flyers, film, songs, audio and more. Day-to-day ephemera like paper bags and coins are included, as well as playing cards, board games, and TV adverts. And a variety of persuasive techniques (make ‘em laugh, appeal to family values, create a sense of fear) are also on show. A particularly striking example is the Aids television campaign from the 1980s, narrated by John Hurt. And there’s an interesting roster of interviewees on screens adding to the debate, including Alastair Campbell, John Pilger, Tessa Jowell and Noam Chomsky.

The exhibition’s final display is about the power of social media and, in particular, Twitter. An installation called Chorus shows tweets from recent events including the Olympic Opening Ceremony and the Sandy Hook shootings. Curator Ian Cooke wonders whether we are all propagandists now, as we all take part in the dissemination of information, sometimes without even really considering its provenance.

It’s a great show. We’d like to persuade you to go along if that didn’t mean we were simply getting in on the act too. In fact, if you want to get really meta, we recommend (see?) you look out for the IWM's loaned Roland Pitchforth painting encouraging people (again!) to see a Wings for Victory exhibition (and again!) in Trafalgar Square from the 1940s. Propaganda: it seems it really is everywhere.

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion runs from 17 May to 17 September at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB. Tickets cost £9/£7 and £5 for concessions. Under 18s go free. Visit bl.uk/propaganda for more details. There’s a fun-sounding programme of events associated with the exhibition: check the website for more details.

Zoe Craig

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