In conjunction with the exhibition Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950, the Walker’s Target Project Space now features a ten-part poster series created by artists Ernesto Padrón, José Papiol, and Faustino Pérez to commemorate key moments, one per year, in the decade following Cuba’s “Triumph of the Rebellion.” The series depicts iconic figures and initiatives, including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, mandatory military service and harvesting of sugar cane. To put this artwork in context, Havana-based designer, author, and poster enthusiast Pepe Menéndez shares his perspective.
Décimo aniversario del triunfo de la rebelión—a poster series created by artists working for DOR, the Departamento de Orientación Revolucionaria, in 1969—is unusually extensive. Only the excitement of the Revolution’s first decade in power could explain such a costly and, to a certain extent, impractical series. Each of the ten small-format posters—originally measuring 22.5”x 11.5” (they’re enlarged for the Walker’s presentation)—requires more space than what was typically available at the time for propaganda in factories, schools, and neighborhood associations, so we can imagine that this was an exceptional series conceived for special uses in Cuba and abroad, perhaps even to be presented as gifts. (A billboard version of the series was also produced.) This was an indulgence of the political propaganda apparatus of a revolutionary movement that had successfully overcome 10 years of tensions and challenges.
The 10 offsets show a distinctive summary of the decade that opened with Fidel Castro’s guerrillas seizing power after defeating the army of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Chronologically ordered, the series illustrates several important political milestones such as the nationalization of private or foreign-owned land and enterprises in 1960 and the missile crisis of 1962. But other important themes are missing, notably the Agrarian Reform Act and the Literacy Campaign. Fidel Castro is represented in association with the triumph of the Revolution in January 1959 through a well-known photo in which he stands beside another leader of the insurrection. Che Guevara’s appearance coincides with the year of his death and is represented by Alberto Korda’s famous portrait. It is noteworthy that the designers took the liberty of inverting the photo, which had not yet become the universal icon that it is today (the figure should be looking to the left in the image).
Designers Ernesto Padrón (1948), José Papiol (1933–2012), and Faustino Pérez (1942) chose a rationalist vision that is evident in every aspect of the design. The influence of Central European graphic design, particularly Swiss and German styles, is notable. The format follows a two-square proportion, while the composition follows a strict pattern with regard to the location of texts and images. The coloring is restricted to two blues and one orange, and the typeface, Helvetica, shows its force in clearly differentiated sizes. High-contrast versions of the original photographs harmoniously combine with the letters of the word “Revolución.” This form of presenting images is characteristic of the island’s posters and is an especially strong feature of the “Golden Decade” of Cuban design (1965–1975).
Padrón, Papiol and Pérez continued working at DOR for many years but they never again collaborated—nor was there ever a similar series of posters produced in subsequent anniversaries of the “rebelión.”