In late October this year, an exhibition of Polish and Hungarian poster design, 1956 Plakáton, was launched at the Polish Institute in Budapest. The new work, by a range of designers from both countries, aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian rebellion in 1956; the national uprising that demanded an end to oppressive Soviet rule. The communist state was eventually dismantled in 1989 but the events of ’56 remained a turning point in the country’s history.
50 years later, however – amid the celebrations of the ’56 uprising – there was violence on the streets of Budapest once more, after it emerged that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s had admitted lying to win re-election. Ewa Engler, a young poster designer from Warsaw, told us how it felt to be exhibiting work commemorating the events of ’56, while in the midst of contemporary protest.
“A selection of Polish and Hungarian designers were invited to take part in this exhibition at the Polish Institute in Budapest and all the posters were designed especially for the exposition,” writes Ewa Engler. “There were old masters and also young people for whom the ’56 Hungarian rebellion is something they’ve learnt about at school.
The theme of the show was the 50th anniversary of the ’56 rebellion, which happened shortly after the Polish uprising in Poznan. Poles and Hungarians had always supported and encouraged each other in the fight against Soviet occupation. In 1956 the sign of the Hungarian rebellion was a crying pigeon, from a lithographic poster designed and printed by the Polish artist Franciszek Starowieyski poster and sent by him to Budapest.
When I was making my poster for the show, I had no idea of the current situation in Hungary. Suddenly, everything had changed and the subject became a present-day interest. There was now a new context for our posters and some of them take advantage of this. I wonder what the posters would have looked like if we had known about the coming uprising?
The theme itself was a real challenge. It’s difficult to find a new solution on a subject that has already been so exploited in poster design – the fight for freedom against an occupying force – so I was really curious as to what I’d see in the exhibition. Some posters were really fresh and original. I like Maciej Wozniak’s poster the most – the one where the holes in the Soviet flag look like screaming mouths.
I spent four days in Budapest overall, just before the celebrations started. I saw the demonstrations at the Parliament – people were there every day after 5pm with many living out there in tents. But I didn’t see any special atmosphere on the streets; no political graffiti or posters. The only political poster I saw in the city was made by the Polish designer Jan Sawka for our exhibition and it was put on the cover of weekly HetiValasz which was advertised on poster sites all over the Budapest.
I suppose the new protests made the 50th celebrations a headline all over the world – otherwise I don’t think it would have been so well known. But the situation now and that of 50 years ago can’t really be compared: Hungary is now a democratic, free country.”