Brilliantly-Designed And Hard-Hitting Cuban Propaganda Goes On Display In London

Designed in Cuba, House of Illustration ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 53 months ago

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Brilliantly-Designed And Hard-Hitting Cuban Propaganda Goes On Display In London Designed in Cuba, House of Illustration 5
Both posters were designed by Alfredo Rostgaard to deify and demonise these two polarising figures. Courtesy the Mike Stanfield collection.

An American astronaut reaches for the moon, only managing to do so by standing on the backs of several black men. It's a biting piece of anti-US propaganda in House of Illustration's exhibition of Cuban graphic design.

All the works were produced by OSPAAAL (Organisation of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America), which was set up by Cuba after a tricontinental conference to help in the 'struggle against colonialism, racism and imperialism'.

An anti-Guantanamo bay poster by Gladys Acosta Avila. Courtesy Mike Stanfield collection

Whatever your political allegiance, these posters have to be admired for their inventiveness and brilliant designs. A giant American monster squeezes the African continent for its oil, while a man is shown crucified against a dollar sign. Many of the designers working for OSPAAAL were former advertising employees, and there's something poetic about the language of consumerism and capitalism being turned against it.  

It's remarkable to see how works from decades ago remain fresh — a flamethrower-wielding soldier is being controlled by a miniature businessman inside his head. It's a critique of corporate involvement in warfare that remains as relevant today. Similarly, a black man shot by prison guards at San Quentin bleeds the stars and stripes, and could just as easily be applicable to the recent police violence towards the black community in the US.

A poster design for the Black Panthers by OSPAAL. Courtesy Mike Stanfield collection

It's no surprise to find heroic looking versions of a cigar-chomping Castro and Che Guevara displayed here. Conversely, Richard Nixon is shown as a bald eagle plucking the heart out of South East Asia.

This exhibition also acts as an alternative history lesson, showing OSPAAAL's support of the Black Panthers by designing a logo for them. Cuba is, after all, a country that was opposed to Apartheid when the UK and US were still branding Mandela a terrorist.  That's not to dismiss the many human rights violations committed under Castro's rule, but it's fascinating to see history from a different lens to the one most of us grew up with.  

There are 170 works packed into this fantastic exhibition and it's a must see... seems like the propaganda has worked on me too — viva la revolución.

Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics is on at House of Illustration until 19 January 2020. Tickets are £8.80 for adults and includes entry to all exhibitions on at the time.

Last Updated 30 September 2019