Cuba's recent history may be a divisive issue, but few can argue that it's inspired some of the most incredible political posters of the last 50 years. And although Castro's dream of exporting the country's Caribbean brand of socialism may be on the wane, it's certainly the case that its vintage poster designs, especially those featuring revolutionary icon Che Guevara, are ubiquitous throughout the western world. Here we take a look at 10 classic examples of the genre...
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01. Radiant Che
The poster was created to mark "The Day of the Heroic Guerrilla" which is celebrated every year in Cuba on 8th October to commemorate the life and revolutionary work of Che Guevara. It was designed by Alfredo Rostgaard in 1969, just two years Che was captured and executed in 1967 in Bolivia.
Rostgaard was a graphic designer art director of Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) from 1960 to 1975.
02. America Latina
This poster for 'America Latina', a week of solidarity with the countries of Latin America, was designed by Antonio Pérez in 1968. As an ex-Spanish colony, the Cuban government had an obvious affinity with nations that gone through a similar historical experience.
03. Typographic Che
Another poster for the Day of the Heroic Guerrilla, this evocative typography based design was created by Jesús Forjans in 1969.
Most of the 'Heroic Guerrilla' series of posters are based on the iconic black and white photo of Che taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz 'Korda' Gutiérrez in 1960, which was widely used in advertising campaigns across the world.
Gutiérrez had no control over this capitalist use of his work because for decades, Cuba did not recognise copyright. He successfully sued Smirnoff Vodka for the illegal use of the image in 2001, a case that re-established his copyright after 41 years. Since his death in the same year, his daughter, Diana Díaz, has continued the legal battle against companies abusing the photograph's copyright.
04. Solidary with Palestine
This defiant design, created for the 'Day of Solidarity with the People of Palestine’ in 1968, was created by Faustino Pérez. The previous year had seen the Palestinians lose most of their remaining territory to Israel in the Six Day War, and the dispute became a unifying issue for left-wing movements everywhere.
05. Patchwork Che
Lázaro Abreu designed this colourful poster to mark the Day of the Heroic Guerrilla in 1970. The iconic image of Che may be only one small element of the design, but it's no less evocative for it.
06. Solidarity with Laos
Rafael Zarsa created this poster in 1969 for a 'Day of Solidarity with the People of Laos'. The mainly Buddhist nation in south-east Asia became independent in 1953, followed by a civil war that raged until 1975, when the Communist Pathet Lao finally gained power.
07. Psychedelic Che
This inspiring poster shows Che's face against a background of concentric squares morphing into a map of South America. Helena Serrano designed it to mark the Day of the Heroic Guerrilla in 1968, just one year after Che had been executed.
08. Together with Vietnam
Ernesto Padrón created this evocative poster, featuring the distinctive hats of the Vietnamese peasant, in 1971 to mark Cuba's support for the communists in the Vietnam War. The sprawling conflict was one of the major international flashpoints of the Cold War, which began with the exit of the French colonial power in the 1950s and ultimately ended with victory for the communists in 30 April 1975.
09. Day of the Heroic Guerrilla
The simple design created by Olivio Martinez in 1973 shows a sombre Che deep in thought and gazing into the distance - a more mature image than some of the more playful pop and psychedelic art posters of the revolutionary.
10. Solidarity with South Africa
Antonio Fernández created this evocative design for a Day of Solidarity with South Africa in 1972. At the time the racial segregation of the apartheid system was near its zenith, with non-white political representation having been completely abolished in 1970.
This article was only possible thanks to Lincoln Cushing/Docs Populi.
Lincoln Cushing was born in Cuba to American parents before emigrating to the US. As a graphic designer and archivist, he has worked with the Cuban national library, the University of California at Berkeley, and other collections to preserve and catalog these amazing posters. He lives in Berkeley and his book Revolucion! charts Cuban poster art.
The Simple Things
This excerpt was taken from an article about Cuban poster collector Michael Tyler in issue 7 of our sister print publication The Simple Things - the lifestyle magazine of the 'slow living' movement. You can check out a sampler of the issue for free here.
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What would you include in a list of iconic poster images? Tell us in the comments box below!