Revolutionary Communication: 1968 Paris Uprising Posters

Cook’s Choice- POST 5


My first sighting of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster was at Barbette in Minneapolis. I routinely peruse billboards and I don’t think I hesitated more than five seconds before I unpinned it from the cork board, rolled it up and gently tucked it under my arm. I knew I had a treasure (and besides, there was more than one). The bartender noticed and I had to do a little sweet talking, but I still have that poster, among others. Not all of the posters I’ve collected are political, but it seems that some of the best posters in history have been either musically or politically oriented. 

“Return to Normal”

  
It’s widely acknowledged that the political posters from the Paris Uprisings of 1968 greatly define the genre. I was first exposed to this period of French history through the steamy film The Dreamers, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and set before and during the uprising. The posters shown briefly in the film piqued my interest more than the NC-17 content did, yet I could only find limited information, most of which was in French. Thanks to the Arab Spring and Occupy, the history of protest and protest art seem to have gained a lot of attention lately. There are all kinds of sources on the net and also a few beautiful new books dealing specifically with the poster art of this brief period.
 

“Be Young and Shut Up”

The uprising started with a small student protest and burgeoned into a 11,000,000 worker labor strike- 22% of France’s population at the time. They shut down the country and President Charles de Gaulle’s government was dangerously close to being toppled. You will often see de Gaulle caricatured as a large-nosed figure (see poster to the left). At the end of the protests, the National Assembly was dissolved and new parliamentary elections were held. The uprising forever changed France- all in two weeks!

“A Youth Disturbed Too Often by the Future”

The posters are the product of a group of art students called the Atelier Populaire (Popular Workshop). They took over the printing studios of their own university and cranked out an impressive volume and variety of posters in a remarkably short time. They switched from lithography to silkscreen because the prior method was too slow– the group often produced over 2000 posters per night. Most of the posters are monochrome, simple in design and direct in message. Posters were chosen by vote within the group and then posted nightly for the public to see current issues every morning. I will never again complain about how much work a social media campaign can be!

Although Occupy and these students share a common root (Situationist International), there is nothing vague about the poster messages of May 1968. They express anxiety for the future and distrust of authority and the press. They warn and inform of police brutality and call for for unity of the workforce and a better quality of life. They express that merely producing and consuming goods is not a good way to live and encouraged the viewer to believe that so much more was possible. They encouraged people to fight for change.

 

Atelier Populaire Mission Statement:
“The posters produced by the Atelier Populaire are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict … in the streets and on the walls of the factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect.”

Individual artists never took credit nor signed their work and long after these events had passed, the Popular Workshop refused to put any of the posters up for sale. I’m sure if these students had the media at the time, they would of been gods of Twitter and Facebook. Fortunately the media of the time left us a lasting and powerful record that is still relevant today. Despite the fact that the Popular Workshop would despise and discount me for a bourgeoisie, I would love to have just one of these posters prominently displayed in my collection. Ça, c’est dommage!  

To view more posters check out Art for Change.
To buy a book, see Beauty Is in the Street: A Visual Record of the May ’68 Paris Uprising

4 thoughts on “Revolutionary Communication: 1968 Paris Uprising Posters

  1. Very interesting, Mo – I think that these posters possess all the makings of a viral video – if only they had the technology. Do you think it would have changed the effectiveness of their campaigns?

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