Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Palestinian Poster Show

The Columbia Center for Palestine Studies in NYC held an exhibit of posters from the history of Palestine and the Palestinian movement including some from Mandate period and the building of the State of Israel. These posters are part of an immense collection started by Dan Walsh as part of his Masters thesis project at Georgetown University. The exhibit titled, One Archive -- One Narrative implies, in this context and venue, an overarching narrative -- that of the Palestinians, with the abrupt insertion of the Zionist narrative. Nevertheless, the whole collection is really an amazing thing to behold and can be amenable to a multiplicity of interpretations. Pictures and words combine to make a fluid image that cannot be controlled, as much as the propagandist would like otherwise to believe. 

The archive has an excellent catalog that makes it possible to search by country, iconography, artist, etc. Here  are two examples of Palestinian posters sorted under 'dove':

Both posters are from 1990 yet present two irreconcilable images to the world:
the longing for peace and the longing to smash Zionism. We know which desire prevails.

In the show's introductory text, Walsh's bias is revealed immediately when describing each 'narrative': "Early Palestine posters promoted a Utopian Zionist-colonial aesthetic, while contemporary Palestine posters are primarily inspired by solidarity with Palestinian nationalism." Suddenly, Zionist-colonial aesthetic is established as an early 20th Century design aesthetic. Hmmm, that's a new one. Walsh purposely obscures the shared European design influences on both camps and post-hoc rationalizes the Zionist aesthetic as, let's face it, illegitimate.

Yet, he attempts to counter the immediate sense of where his sympathies lie: "The four wellsprings of the Palestine poster - international solidarity, political Zionism, Arab-Muslim solidarity, and Palestinian nationalism - are equally represented in this exhibit. Posters are presented in rotation by wellspring, not chronologically ordered. This approach reflects the free-for-all nature of Palestine poster production and circumvents the curatorial penchant for imposing hierarchy." I see, his Palestine Poster Projects Archive, which is running a competition, Imaging Apartheid, is loath to impose a hierarchy.

It is fascinating what he says next: "Aided by the Internet and the emergence of the digital poster, the genre is expanding at an unprecedented rate. In terms of size, range, and impact, the Palestine poster genre surpasses all other preeminent 20th century political poster genres, such as those of the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and revolutionary Cuba." 

Essentially Walsh is saying that of all the nationalist and/or revolutionary movements of the 20th century, the Palestinian cause generated the greatest amount of propaganda. Now, add to that the column inches devoted to the conflict, the ubiquity of UN resolutions, the TV images and you have yourself a very successful marketing campaign.

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