Posters have a different meaning in Poland than they do in the United States. In the United States, you might imagine a poster to be a flimsy piece of paper with a pop star photograph that preteens often hung in their room. Or you may imagine the posters that line the outside of a movie theater. In Poland they are so much more.
The Polish Poster Movement
Polish culture has been shaped by resistance. Poland has been threatened to be erased from the world (it even disappeared from world maps for 123 years!!) and after World War II was forced under rule of the Soviet regime. Stalin even famously said that imposing Communism on Roman Catholic Poland was as absurd as putting a saddle on a cow, but he did it anyway.
When the Soviets attempted to eliminate the culture and heritage of Eastern European nations, the Polish poster became a small beacon of resistance. It was through the Poles persistent effort to protect and preserve their culture that the Poster Movement was born. The time between the 1950s and the 1980s in Poland, is known as the Polish School of Posters (not a real school but an artistic era). Posters quickly became a medium that allowed for freedom of expression while still maintaining social purpose.
The posters that were created during this era combined the aesthetics of painting with vibrant colors, personality, slogans, humor and metaphor. Many of these posters embodied artistic movements including Expressionism, Surrealism and Dada. The posters camouflaged and hid commonly understood ironies and beliefs that were secretly shared with the public. They showed the hidden story of creativity under oppression.
After World War II many buildings were boarded up or surrounded by wooden fences, which immediately became covered in posters. The posters on city streets served as a substitute for museums and galleries as Communism was determined to put an end to “fine arts." Vibrant and colorful posters brightened up the gray of the city. They became the art of the streets communicating the artists emotional relationships and commentary on society.
One other thing you will notice is that, historically, Polish film posters are very different from those you will find in the United States. Instead of displaying an image taken from the movie or pictures of the actors, you will find an artistic image inspired from the artists interpretation of the film.
So the next time you see a Polish poster, instead of glancing over it, take the time and observe the possibilities the artist may have been trying to convey through this simple artistic medium.
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