Today, 50 years after 1968 the kick-off to worldwide rebellion, the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich brings together around 300 international protest posters in the Toni Areal, accompanied by the songs, videos and images of resistance. Emotionally vivid or rationally explanatory, from the 1920s to the present day the protest poster has accompanied current affairs and has given visual expression to resistance. As a means of political intervention in public space it is used by designers to take an active stance and to comment critically on events. The forms of graphical implementation range from free-hand illustrations to photo- montages and to purely typographical invocations. Expressive pathos can be found as well as sober severity.
Visual formulas of protest
The exhibition Protest! Resistance Posters ranges from Käthe Kollwitz’ emotional protest against war to the legendary messages of the Parisian Atelier Populaire and to contemporary political manifestos. It is divided up into five chapters that showcase different visual formulas and argumentation strategies used by the protest poster which reoccur independent of the specific themes, circumstances or geographical contexts: indignation and enlightenment, idols and bogeymen, utopia and dystopia, invocation and address, sign and symbol. The designs appeal to our sensitivity and feelings of compassion; they take those in power down a peg, attack injustice or give utopias a face. The exhibition does not aim to present a seamless chronographic sequence of global political events or to deal with individual isolated themes but rather pays tribute to the medium of the resistance poster in the context of an overall show.
Visual languages of committed designers
Additionally, a separate chapter presents eight selected design positions that illustrate the wide variety of approaches in terms of graphic design. John Heartfield, the pioneer of the photo- montage, used technology in order to reinterpret reality through satire, poetry and pathos. His works are prophetical analyses of political conditions under German National Socialism. Klaus Staeck develops the design practice of Heartfield. With his word and image inventions, he creates
an effective iconography that enables him to comment upon contemporary events. Vincent Perrottet understands graphic design as social responsibility and political practice. His posters are to be seen as a visual protest against the predominant occupation of public space by the economy. The dark images by Tomi Ungerer from his years in New York deal with racism, the Vietnam War and the materialism of American society. The provocative potential of the posters by James Victore is aimed at conditions in America today. The Israeli David Tartakover uses images from the mass media, which he gives a new meaning by means of brief slogans and in this way examines the conflict in the Middle East. The posters by Atelier Populaire from the dramatic May of 1968 are legendary and their succinct aesthetics are full of a poetic expressiveness. Finally, the Mexican collective ASARO orients itself on traditional folk art and shows the topicality of protests today.
Virtual space as space of symbols
The analogue posters are accompanied by slide shows and websites. To propogate alternative ideas designers today are increasingly using the internet. Thus the direct effect of poster interventions in local public space encounters worldwide, decentralized communication in virtual space. As a result the processes of reproducing and hanging posters are dropped, which brings economic advantages and, above all, means extremely fast dissemination. The individual works are connected to form a collective international net dialogue that allows a different view of what is happening in the world.
Protest songs and moving images
Better-known and less well-known protest songs come from a juke box, visitors are received by moving images of important demonstrations, yesterday and today. These lead directly into the heart of the show, while also making clear that the aim here is not to make protest into a museum piece – although many poster icons have become part of the collection archive. They serve as a visual memory, but above all as a reminder of the need for resistance, here and now, and confirm the topicality and universality of the themes.
Protest in the here and now
In the exhibition entrance area an LED ticker issues in a daily rhythm new, selected protest messages that visitors to the exhibition can leave behind them. A photo wall invites visitors to walk around public space with their eyes open, to document expressions of protest in photos and to submit their images for this wall.