Uncovering the ‘golden age’ of Cuban propaganda

House of Illustration’s new show offers a fascinating visual snapshot of Cuba’s communist history and the global ideological conflicts of the 20th century, with a series of rarely seen propaganda posters and magazines

Think about famous examples of Cuban design, and chances are the iconic graphic of revolutionary leader Che Guevara will be the first thing that springs to mind. But the visual history of the Communist country extends well beyond a single graphic, as demonstrated by a new show at the House of Illustration in London.

Drawn from the private collection of Mike Stanfield, Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics brings together over 180 artworks from the country’s ‘golden age’ of graphic design.

The designs were all created in the wake of the formation of Fidel Castro’s OSPAAAL (Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America) in 1966. The NGO was founded to promote solidarity and cooperation between social countries and liberation movements across the globe who sympathised with Cuba’s revolutionary message and its stance against the dominance of Western nations.

The show features many of the designs that came out of OSPAALS’ headquarters in Havana, where it produced an array of propaganda posters and magazines which praised Latin America’s revolutionary icons and the actions of the Black Panther Party in the US, while condemning the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa.

The bold editorial design of illustrated magazine Tricontinental during the Cold War era also looms large in the show, with works by artists including Alfredo Rostgaard and Helena Serrano and features on everyone from Malcolm X to Jane Fonda.

Beyond the rarity of most of the designs on display, it is the array of styles seen that is perhaps most surprising element of the show; visitors can expect to see everything from pop-culture inspired graphics to photomontage.

The exhibition’s curator Oliva Ahmed, says: “The boldness and range of approaches to design in this collection is astonishing. Although these artists were designing to express the political ideology of one nation, they weren’t limited to one aesthetic; their work is marked by an extraordinary freedom to experiment.”

Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics is on display from 27 September – 19 January 2020. Entry costs £8.80; houseofillustration.org.uk