CUBAN POSTERS in Spain
In June of this year, the MuVIM (Valencia Museum of Enlightenment and Modernity) inaugurated an exhibition of Cuban posters produced between 1959 and 1989, many of which received international awards in the final decades of the 20th century, and are currently the focus of multiple exhibitions in different European cities.
The posters displayed were produced by the leading cultural institutions created following the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, namely the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), founded in March 1959, followed by the Casa de las Américas and later, the National Council for Culture (CNC). These institutions were responsible for the expansion of the country’s cultural horizons. From that moment on, alongside performances of emblematic works of world theater, cult, European and North American films began to be screened, and related national and international events multiplied. They were publicized through posters, a medium that had not previously seen particular development on the island, and that over time would stand as the graphic testimony of the cultural intensity that defined this historic period.
At the same time, political propaganda was served through this medium, and it must be said that in the beginnings, as an art of incitation and participation, the expressions were indebted to canons close to socialist realism. However, very soon these expressions became more creative, as an artistic section was created within the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, to which certain designers from the cultural world were attracted. They provided political campaigns with a new hallmark, through the use of images of greater visual diversity. Proof of this is the work by figures such as Rafael Morante, Olivio Martínez,
Félix Beltrán and Alfredo Rostgaard, who at the time created paradigmatic pieces.
ICAIC, meanwhile, brought together painters hitherto unrelated to graphic design who, together with former advertising agents, formed a team with the new figures that emerged in the sixties, and took responsibility for the publicizing of the hundreds of foreign films screened throughout the country, as well as national film production which, together with the Noticiero
ICAIC Latinoamericano, gave Cuban cinema the hallmarks that distinguished it for decades.
As could be appreciated in the exhibited works, graphic expression linked to cinematography enjoyed an extraordinary originality, diversity and, at the same time, constancy, during the decades of the sixties and seventies. The posters were characterized by a style that ranged from an economy of means that today we would call minimalist, to the figurative expression of Pop or the optical illusion of Kinetic art. Mostly screen printed, with an almost uniform format, their size favored the placement, within the urban fabric, of metal posts with four panels, allowing for the simultaneous display of eight posters. These posts, which the public popularly referred to as “sombrillitas” (parasols), played an important informative role, literally taking the films to the streets.
The exhibition reveals, once again, that the varied approaches of the numerous Cuban designers working during this period can be appreciated through film posters, as well as the stylistic diversity of their respective career paths. Among others, Lucci’s poster for Mi tio was included, in which the subtle humor of Jacques Tati was reflected through a huge body moving on tiptoe, and seemingly naïve gestures; as well as that of painter René Portocarrero, who illustrated Soy Cuba with the same Baroque style of his pictorial work; likewise Harakiri, from those same years, a master piece that earned its author, Antonio Fernández
Reboiro, international recognition, and in which the syllables of the word are as striking as the allusion to blood emphasized by the rising sun.
Another artist present in the exhibition was René Azcuy, with several important pieces, among others that relating to the film
La niña de luto, recalling Franco’s Spain, and that in which he alludes to the poignant sensuality of the beautiful Marilyn Monroe.
Of course, the work of the exceptional Rostgaard could not be overlooked, who bequeathed images that marked milestones, like the poster with which the event held at the Casa de las Américas on Canción Protesta was advertised, or that of the documentary Hanoi martes 13.
No less interesting was the poster by Raúl Martínez for the film Lucía, in which he altered his tendency, using flat, bright colors and repeating faces in the style of Warhol.
Other artists present at the exhibition were Eduardo Muñoz Bachs and Antonio Pérez (Ñiko), both with memorable movie posters, as well as some foreign painters invited to illustrate posters for certain films, such as the Spaniard Antonio Saura, who was responsible for Memories of Underdevelopment.
Indeed, the cultural scene of those years was intense, as can certainly be verified in the set of works presented in this important Spanish museum; some intended to publicize theatrical works, others artistic exhibitions, festivals, or those linked to events organized by the then National Council for Culture or the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). Among them it is worth highlighting the names of artists such as Umberto Peña, José Villa (Villita) and Héctor Villaverde, as well as those who formed part of the Plaza de la Catedral Taller de Gráfica (Graphic Arts Workshop), such as César Leal, Roger Aguilar, Rafael Zarza, José Luis Posada, César Mazola and José Contino, all faithful lovers of lithography. Among those forming this group, the figure of José Gómez Fresquet (Fremez) certainly stood out.
Due to space limitations, it was not possible to cover the work of all the artists who played a leading role in the development of Cuban posters during the three decades covered by this exhibition. However, the selection vouched for the extraordinary development that the Cuban poster achieved in those years, and the works exhibited are an example of their significance as exceptional testimonies of the era they illustrated. Works which are all present in the Cuban collection of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
… the varied approaches of the numerous Cuban designers working during this period can be appreciated through film posters, as well as the stylistic diversity of their respective career paths.
RAÚL MARTÍNEZ Lucía, 1968
20 x 30 inches
JOSE GOMEZ FRESQUET (FREMEZ)
Festival de la Canción popular, Varadero, Cuba, 1967, Silk screen / 23½ x 16 inches
Collection of MNBA
EUFEMIA ALVAREZ Revés en Victoria, 1970. Silk screen / 44 x 30 inches Collection of MNBA