Mini story — 3 Jul 2018 — Suzanna Héman
Cuba is hot and happening in the 60s. Many artists and writers – including Dutch ones – express their solidarity with the Cuban revolution. Stedelijk conservator Ad Petersen travels to Cuba in 1970, following the example of director Edy de Wilde and artists including Ed van der Elsken, Corneille and Harry Mulisch. The conservator is impressed with the combative posters on the streets. With help from Cuban writer Edmundo Desnoes, Petersen manages to take about 250 Cuban posters with him to the Netherlands. These posters are still part of the Stedelijk Museum’s collection.
“visitors to Cuba of the ilk of director De Wilde and alderman Lammers” are precisely those whom Castro considered “CIA agents and so-called lefties.”
Museum director on Cuba
While researching for this exhibition, we discovered archive material showing that Stedelijk director Edy de Wilde had also visited Cuba back in 1967, where he had attended the unveiling of a painting of twelve by eight meters on the occasion of a conference of the Organization for Latin American Solidarity. In addition to De Wilde, a large number of European representatives from the art world were invited, including Ed van der Elsken, Corneille, and Harry Mulisch.
De Wilde commented on the huge impression that Castro made, especially on young people. But when it came to art, he saw all kinds of American influences, such as pop art, hard-edge painting, and the like. According to a pamphlet published that year by the Bond voor Beeldende Kunstenaars, “visitors to Cuba of the ilk of director De Wilde and alderman Lammers” are precisely those whom Castro considered “CIA agents and so-called lefties,” and were thus far from welcome in Cuba.
In 1970 Stedelijk Museum curator Ad Petersen left for Cuba to attend a meeting of the state organization Consejo de Cultura, to celebrate the 26th of July, the day commemorating the revolutionary organization headed by Fidel Castro. Petersen’s attention was chiefly drawn to posters he saw in the streets. Among them were huge formats of roughly three by six meters. While there, Petersen also met the Cuban writer Edmundo Desnoes, who helped him to collect posters, thanks to which he returned to the Netherlands with hundreds of Cuban posters. There he also met the French cartoonist Georges Wolinski, who was eventually killed in 2015, in the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
Within a year the revolutionary message from Cuba was on view at the Stedelijk Museum. The posters are colorful, vigorously eloquent political and social messages designed for kommunikasie (“communication”). Newspapers often printed a poster on the first or last page, so that people could put it on the wall. In this way a revolutionary form of visual art helped to raise social awareness. More traditional artforms, such as (wall) paintings, were too time-intensive and too tied to one place to make much of a contribution to the radical cause. Moreover, the posters spoke a language that everyone could understand, a language in which beauty and revolution were interwoven.
Heroes of the revolution
An example of this is the series of posters by Ernesto Padrón Blanco, José Papiol, and Faustino Pérez, which celebrates the tenth anniversary of the “triumph of the uprising.” Together the ten posters form the word “REVOLUCIÓN.” Each letter represents a year; for instance, the “E” represents the Cuban flag and the “V” represents victory during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The photograph of Che Guevara on the poster for 1967 corresponds with the year of his death. The entire series therefore symbolizes a number of important milestones, and was also produced in billboard format.
The posters by Jesús Forjans, which use the likeness of Lenin in instances of Cuban radicalism, are remarkable as well. Of course there are also innumerable posters that depict the great leader, Fidel Castro. He resigned as president more than ten years ago, and was succeeded by his brother, Raúl Castro. Now, in 2018, the Castro dynasty has come to an end as Miguel Díaz-Canel takes the helm. Naturally, posters will be made to celebrate this occasion.
Suzanna Héman is assistant curator at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam