WMU Home Frostic School of Art College of Fine Arts

The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice and the Environment Boston, Philadelphia and New York 2005–06

January 14 – February 19, 2010

Monroe-Brown Gallery

Authors and curators

Elizabeth Resnick, Associate Professor and Chair, Communication Design.
Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, Mass.

Chaz Maviyane-Davies, Associate Professor, Communication Design. 
Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, Mass.

Frank Baseman, Associate Professor, Graphic Design Communication. 
Philadelphia University, Philadelphia, Penn.

"The poster is the prime field for experimenting with visual language; it is the scene of changing ideas and aesthetics, of cultural, social and political events."
—Pierre Bernard, French designer

Every movement for social change in the past hundred years has begun with the arts. Theatre, poetry, music and posters have been central, but political and social posters in particular, are living reminders of struggles for peace and justice. Whether they communicate, exhort, persuade, instruct, celebrate, or warn, graphic posters still jar us to action through bold messages and striking iconography.

The Graphic Imperative is an exhibition of international sociopolitical posters that stir our emotions yet cause us to reflect. The exhibition of examples of Agitprop provides a window to an age of change, utilizing the power of visual metaphor and at times, savage irony and humor. Themes from the past four decades include dissent, liberation, racism, sexism, human rights, civil rights, environmental concerns, AIDS, war, literacy and tolerance.

These posters have transmitted the ideals, hopes and dreams of millions who have dared to raise their voices in protest or concern. They have helped empower and propel important movements for social change. Some have become icons that have changed the way we view our institutions, our world and ourselves. Because graphic designers need to express their individual views about a cause or issue, their posters are a form of personal expression in a field that often prefers the bland.

By selecting 100 posters, we have endeavored to show the social, political and aesthetic concerns of many cultures in a single exhibition. In delineating themes and contrasting political realities, we hope to focus the issues of our turbulent times as Cuban poster designer Raul Martinez stated: "putting a graphic face on a movement."

We have chosen work that is conceptually strong, yet with a direct message. All of the posters selected exhibit a combination of the following qualities; the work is innovative in some way. The work embodies and reasserts the value of a particular way of imparting a point of view to its public. The work is a highly accomplished example of its type in its discipline. The work is of lasting rather than transitory interest. The work contributes strongly to the context of an exhibition. The work exemplifies the exhibition's key argument that creativity through graphic design is a force for cultural emancipation.

The Graphic Imperative is perhaps the first poster exhibition that offers the public a chance to savor and compare a magnificent body of powerful messages, a seamless blend of text and image.