Autumn 1990

Posters of freedom

Graphics have played a vital role in East European events

As events unfolded in Eastern Europe and the USSR in 1989 and 1990, new challenges have faced the graphic designers as well as the politicians in the evolution of images, symbols and logos to embody the changing movements, parties and states. Some of the most forceful images derive from the past year’s pro-democracy demonstrations, and from the need to communicate quite literally on the street – encouraging and demanding change and exhorting action. It is noticeable that the pre-Communist symbolism of the various countries is frequently drawn upon to give a sense of stability and historical perspective. So too is a reference to never forgotten historic tragedies and to religious imagery, more powerful now for having suffered a period of repression.

Multi-party politics, so long unknown in Eastern Europe, have provided further stimulus for the poster designer: the freedom to mock and criticise, as well as to open eyes to new horizons. Although the distinctive graphic traditions of the various countries still clearly emerge, inevitably this is an area of propaganda art where the influence of the west has already begun to make its mark ¬¬– most noticeably in East Germany.

The Prints, Drawings and Paintings Collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum decided to gather together some of the powerful political images produced in these momentous times. It was necessary to act swiftly to capture such fleeting records before they disappeared, and the result is a unique collection. Initially, the museum itself made approaches to political organisations, universities, museums, embassies, foreign newspapers and individual contracts; curators even travelled abroad to collect material on the spot. Since then, people outside the museum have themselves offered posters and other ephemera, often with interesting documentation attached.

First published in Eye no. 1 vol. 1, 1990

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