The art of fighting

Whether rallying demonstrators against Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax in 1990 or campaigning to free Nelson Mandela in South Africa, protest posters have called the masses to action for more than a century.

The poster has been the perfect vehicle for protest and propaganda, says Simon Redgrave, curator of Protest: Fight the Power. Starting out as a double-header (if you couldn’t read, you’d still get the kicker from the picture), the poster became a double act as literacy increased – image and message working together.

As part of this year’s British Arts and Street Sounds festival in Birmingham, the exhibition showcases two decades of protest posters by graphic designers from around the world. Having toured Africa and Asia, it includes iconic posters covering issues as diverse as sexual health and workers’ rights.

Referring to its UK incarnation as a ’remixhibition’, Redgrave is keen to weave current issues – such as graphic responses to the recent UK General Election – into the mix. Posterswork best ’when they incorporate a haiku-like slogan or a photograph’, says Redgrave. ’Designs stick in the mind when they’re either funny without being flip, or visceral without being brutal. Few designers can deliver a genuine knockout blow, and these usually rely on a reportage photo.’

Rejecting the notion that Photoshop has led to the demise of political posters, he challenges modern designers to consider the work on show. ’[They] need to see the passion, audacity and playfulness of their creators, then translate it to their modern context and practice,’ he says.

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