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Poster culture in Poland



By Karla Ortiz


On January 19th, the exhibition Repression and Freedom, The Polish School of Posters, opened in Casa Europa, hosted by art curator Danny Schexnayder.

This exhibition, at Casa Europa until January 31, features 45 posters examining the Polish postwar period from 1945 to 1989. The event was attended by Zofia Ziolkowska, cultural attachè of the Polish Embassy, and dozens of people who could observe on each poster the artistic prowess of several painters inspired by the social, political and culture of oppression in Poland during this era.

Thanks to that corner of European culture, the Vintage Posters International Gallery, located on Zacateros 57, Sanmiguelenses were able to peruse this display of Soviet-era Polish cultural posters last Friday while enjoying a glass of wine and the music of the jazz group Tziganko. The Vintage Posters gallery provided the posters for the exhibit.

The Polish Poster School began in the late 19th century, when Poland’s territory was divided between Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Krakow, one of the oldest and most important cities in Poland, was controlled by a less-oppressive Austria. This capital city positioned itself as the cradle of artistic, cultural, scientific, political and religious life.

But not until the 50s, while under control of the Soviet Union, did the Polish poster art form began its peak, at a time when the state controlled virtually all publicly displayed artistic expression. Surprisingly, the Soviets let artists design posters with great freedom, allowing experimentation and the expression of individual artistic voices.

The school flourished because of the then-heavy state control of art and cultural life in Poland. Many artists had no other option but to become professional graphic designers, and posters for cultural events in Poland were one of their few sources of creative expression—often the most colorful thing you could find in the streets. That’s why the people of this country devoted so much creativity to their art. These artists developed a new visual language that combined metaphor and symbolism, often surprising observers in the West, who expected these posters to reflect Soviet propaganda.

In the 1980s, however, the school’s influence in Poland declined, due to strong opposition to the increasingly oppressive government. In 1989, the privatization of film distribution was its death knell.

But it is not completely gone. One can still find this art form on some streets in Krakow—or in corners of the world much closer to home, currently at Casa Europa and Mr. Poster Gallery.


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