Much of Cuba’s iconic graphic design is instantly recognizable the world over. But alongside the familiar image of Che Guevara, Cuban artists have produced uncompromising design and illustration to deliver Cuba’s revolutionary message around the world. These works have rarely been seen – until now.
Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics is the first major exhibition of graphic design from Cuba’s ‘golden age’. It brings together 115 posters and 70 magazines distributed across the globe by OSPAAAL: Fidel Castro’s Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America, an organisation founded to promote cooperation between socialist countries and liberation movements.
From 1966 until 2019, OSPAAL’s designers in Havana produced hundreds of posters and magazines that expressed solidarity with the U.S.A.’s Black Panther Party, condemned apartheid in South Africa and the Vietnam War and celebrated Latin America’s revolutionary icons. Some of their messages, such as criticism of U.S. military bases in Guantanamo Bay and support for the unity of North and South Korea, remain pertinent today.
Throughout the Cold War, artists including Alfredo Rostgaard, Helena Serrano, Rafael Enríquez and Gladys Acosta Ávila produced provocative posters and bold editorial design for Tricontinental, an illustrated magazine that featured articles by radical public figures, both expected – like Che Guevara and Malcolm X - and unexpected, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Jane Fonda.
The works in the exhibition were produced by 33 designers, many of them women. All were created between 1965 and 1992, reframing the familiar story of the Cold War through a wholly unfamiliar angle.
Exhibition curator Oliva Ahmad says: “The boldness and range of approaches to design in this collection is astonishing. Although these artists were designing to express the political ideology of one nation, they weren’t limited to one aesthetic; their work is marked by an extraordinary freedom to experiment. Visitors will see everything from bold typography and photomontage to psychedelic colours and pop culture-inspired graphics. These posters and magazines don’t just represent exemplary design – they also provide a fascinating record of the global ideological conflicts of the 20th century.”
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