OPEN THE DOORS WIDE
At the end of 2016, the book El cartel cubano llama dos veces, by Cuban researcher and curator Sara Vega Miche,1 published by Ediciones La Palma of Spain, as part of its Cuba Collection, directed by Ignacio Rodríguez, was first launched in Havana before its sale to the public.
In large format (22 x 31 centimeters) and with 144 posters reproduced full-page, plus 56 reduced and accompanying the texts, for a total of 200, the reader will appreciate a modest part of one of the most transcendental expressions of Cuban contemporary visuality which represented, according to Cuban and foreign writers and critics, the visible face of Cuban art during the 1960s and 70s.
On this occasion, following other titles published in Cuba and abroad (on which Sara Vega has also contributed), posters are offered not only by the renowned artists of the so-called “golden age” of the sixties (Antonio Fernández Reboiro, René Azcuy, Alfredo Rostgaard, Antonio Pérez Ñiko, Eduardo Muñoz Bachs, Julio Eloy, Rafael Morante), but also those of recent generations of Cuban designers, as a living demonstration of their continuity and vitality, as a way of confirming the remarkable revival and interest that Cuban posters continue to awaken in diverse latitudes (remember the enthusiasm of American essayist and writer Susan Sontag on publishing her outstanding book on
Cuban posters in 1970).
It is important to note that the book deals only with posters made for Cuban films and not with the rich and extensive production carried out in the Design Department of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) in relation to movies from Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa, and
Latin America screened in Cuba. If the author and publisher had proposed such a gigantic task, it would undoubtedly have surpassed the 245 pages of the text that we are dealing with now.
An introduction by Luciano Castillo, Director of the Cinematheque of Cuba, with the suggestive title of “Los paraguas de La Habana” (The Umbrellas of Havana - in reference to the urban metal structures, located in central corners of the Cuban capital, used to exhibit eight different film posters on each side every week, and which pedestrians immediately identified as paragüitas or little umbrellas), in a subtle allusion to Jacques Demy’s famous 1960s film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, confirms the impact that this inclusion or daily intervention of symbols meant for the urban landscape and graphic codes; causing Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier to exclaim in 1969 that these were nothing less than an “art gallery accessible to all, offered to all those who have eyes to perceive the jokes, the styles, the discoveries, of a visual arts positioned beyond mere advertising figuration.”
This introductory text is followed by a sort of general essay by Sara Vega (under the same title as the book) that covers almost 100 years of poster production since her research dates back to 1915, thanks to the conservation in the archives of the institution where she works of a significant copy of the poster La Manigua o La mujer cubana, by an unknown artist, corresponding to the film of the same name released that year.
Divided according to decade, from the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st century, the text reviews the changes in the codes and representations of the Cuban film poster, as well as its sources of influence worldwide (especially Polish posters) and, very conscientiously, of the vicissitudes and “miracles” carried out by those designers and screen printers, almost heroic when put into perspective, to overcome the shortage of appropriate materials and necessary equipment until presenting their sketches and printing them in the ICAIC screen printing workshop; including those of the new generations of designers in recent years (Nelson Ponce, Raúl Valdés, Giselle Monzón, Michelle Mijares Hollands, Edel Rodriguez, Claudio Sotolongo, Idania del Río).
For this reason, the technique with which they were made is highlighted—screen printing—capable of endowing each poster with a particular, and I would say special and at times mythical, aura, thanks to the richness of its texture, the opacity and intensity of the colors and, at the same time, different degrees of imperfection due to the rustic paper used.
The almost photographic posters of the 1940s and 50s are not excluded from this research, in which the drawn or painted actors’ faces were the essential advertising component to attract audiences to cinemas, and not the search for new forms or truly creative interpretations of the film content.
The assimilation by Cuban designers of important contemporary art trends from the 1960s transformed the visual panorama of the Cuban poster, turning it into a cultural event par excellence by combining beauty, communicative effectiveness and visual impact. Thanks to this, these posters today enjoy the esteem of important galleries and museums in different parts of the world, and are coveted by collectors and researchers.
The evaluation of this area of national graphic history carried out by Sara Vega positions the Cuban film poster in a just place within the history of Cuban culture, along with painting, drawing, sculpture, engraving, the photograph, the installation, the object. It shatters any prejudice, and demolishes barriers as regards minor and major arts, fine arts and crafts, high and low culture. And it contributes to a better understanding of the local and global phenomena of visuality. The importance of this art form has led it to be recently recognized as National Memory in Cuba, a first step to reach, perhaps in all likelihood and with ample justice, the Memory of the World category granted by UNESCO to these maximum achievements in the field of human creation.
Therefore, when the Cuban film poster knocks at your door, open it wide.
… from the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st century, the text reviews the changes in the codes and representations of the Cuban film poster, as well as its sources of influence worldwide…