Women's Role in the USSR: Vintage Propaganda Posters
The USSR was the first country in the world to give women the same marital rights as their husbands. Women played a significant and extraordinary role in the USSR. They were expected to not only fulfil their domestic duties but also to take up arms, respond to the needs of the nation and defend their homeland.
They were celebrated as equals in Soviet art, working alongside men in the fields and factories. Propaganda posters served a powerful purpose in engaging and encouraging women to work towards the Socialist utopia. Read more
Vintage Soviet Propaganda Sketches & Paintings
The state-run Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia controlled all aspects of artistic life, right down to the distribution of paint brushes. Under orders from the Soviet state, they turned art into a production line in the service of a promised Socialist utopia.
First, artists created rough sketches. The sketches were then passed to technicians who cut out stencils of each design. Depending on the number of colours in each poster, between 12 and 65 stencils were used. An assembly line of workers would then place each stencil on the paper, add a layer of colour, before it was passed to the next worker on the production line. Most sketches and stencils were thrown out after the poster was created. The ones that survive today are rare, and highly sought after.
Diptychs & Triptychs: Vintage Soviet Propaganda Posters
Western fear of Communism had been growing since the Russian revolution, and by the close of World War 2, the uneasy peace between the Western superpowers and the Soviet Union was faltering. The state used propaganda posters as a vehicle to disseminate communist ideology and promote their world view.
But sometimes one poster wasn’t enough to communicate a message. Soviet artists regularly created diptychs and triptychs more than two metres in length to be hung on the walls of factories and government buildings. With their stark simplicity and bold colours, diptych and triptych propaganda posters were a part of the texture of everyday life in the Soviet Union, and reflect the officially approved history as it was experienced by its citizens.
Young Pioneers: Vintage Soviet Youth Propaganda Posters
Tying a red handkerchief around your neck was a source of pride in the USSR. On public holidays, millions of Soviet children would march down wide avenues in sprawling parades, singing patriotic songs and saluting banners of Lenin. Young Pioneers were the Soviet’s answer to the Girl and Boy Scouts of America, but they were much more political.
Membership was voluntary. But it was considered a rite of passage by parents and children alike. Millions of children would spend months learning anthems and bylaws by heart before attending a solemn oath swearing ceremony at their regional Pioneers Palace. With striking colours and simple slogans, posters show Young Pioneers raising animals, protecting the environment, and helping the elderly. Read more
Theatre Time: Vintage Theatre Posters
In the Soviet Union, theatre was controlled by the state. Theatre wasn’t just entertainment, it taught the audience to think, to read between the lines. The characters portrayed were common Soviet citizens, while the ideas conveyed were based on honesty, modesty, and the the common good.
The state turned to artists to come up with posters to advertise plays and theatre productions. They are often characterised by bright colours and hidden symbolism.
Tierpark: Vintage Zoo & Animal Posters
As the dust of WWII settled, Germany was split in two. A wall separated the western side from the Soviet sponsored German Democratic Republic. Berlin’s famous Zoological Gardens were on the west side of the wall, out of reach for the citizens of East Germany. On the former grounds of Friedrichsfelde Palace, the East German state created a rival to the Zoological Gardens, Tierpark.
With more than 120 species including Siberian tigers and Asian elephants, Tierpark was the GDR’s crown jewel. Prominent East German artists like Horst Naumann and Rerner Zeigert were enlisted to create advertising posters for the new zoo. The famous posters depict the animals of the zoo and are characterised by bright colours and simple composition.
Safety First: Vintage Safety Propaganda Posters
Industrialisation of the Soviet economy was one of Stalin’s top priorities. A modern, industrial USSR would have economic independence from capitalist countries. But, machines, electricity, hot iron, sharp tools were a major threat for the “new era” workers. Poor safety standards and a largely illiterate population meant workplace accidents were commonplace.
The state commissioned artists to create visual and often violent safety posters for the walls of factories. Bright colours and striking graphics were a common theme of the posters which were developed in the hopes of communicating to an often illiterate population. Safety posters advised workers to wear safety glasses, not to touch live wires, and to avoid putting fingers in front of blades.
Playing with Type: Vintage Soviet Typography Posters
In the wake of the 1917 revolution, Soviet designers saw it as their patriotic duty to create an entirely new artistic language in service of their new socialist utopia. Art was a reflection of a modern, industrial society. It had no place in an artist’s studio, or even in a museum.
Artists treated typography as a visual element in and of itself. It communicated, engaged and entertained. Typefaces were readable, but they didn’t sit on a page like anything that had come before. Words were kaleidoscopic, with dynamic rhythmic designs that represented machine-age modernity. Read more
The Olympics Games: Vintage Soviet Sports Posters
The 1980 Moscow Olympics were a chance for the Soviet Union to outshine their Cold War rival. Just a few months earlier, the U.S had hosted the Winter Olympics. The Soviet Union ice hockey team was heavily favoured to win gold again. Instead the U.S beat them in a stunning 4-3 upset. The USSR was humiliated. The stage was set for a rematch.
Moscow was beautified in preparation for the Games. Streets were repaved, buildings repainted and stores were stocked with international goods. A major international poster design competition was held to promote the games. Artists from 45 countries submitted more than 5,000 designs. The winning designs had bold colours, smiling athletes and powerful slogans. Read more
Promoting Peace: Vintage Propaganda Posters
The USSR and the USA both considered the other to be the aggressor. Soviet artists regularly created posters that advocated for the peaceful exploration of outer space or peace to the children of the world.
With their stark simplicity and bold colours, peace propaganda posters were a part of the texture of everyday life in the Soviet Union, and reflect the official Soviet position as the peaceful superpower.
The Race to Space: Vintage Space Propaganda Posters
Space was the dramatic arena for an ideological struggle between Communism and Capitalism. The USSR understood the power of the image and the Space Race was one of the central motifs of Soviet propaganda posters. Cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin were a common feature in Soviet propaganda posters.
New designs were often released to celebrate anniversaries or new technological breakthroughs. In them, cosmonauts were depicted as explorers of new worlds, looking boldly back at the viewer. Space was the dramatic arena for an ideological struggle between Communism and Capitalism. The most famous Soviet artists like A. Lemeshchenko and V. Viktorov created some of the most famous posters of the era which are potent reminders of the stratospheric ambitions of the Soviet regime. The ones that survive today are highly sought after. Read more
Propagandising the Healthy: Vintage Propaganda Posters
In the USSR, healthcare was especially important. The population needed to be strong, healthy and productive. Armies of people were needed to work on farms and produce machinery so that the Socialist utopia could be realised.
Bright colours and striking graphics were a common theme of the posters which were developed in the hopes of communicating to an often illiterate population. Poster artists including Viktor Semyonovich Ivanov and Gustav Klutsis created posters which advised on how to prevent diarrhea, not to drink unclean water, and to temper nipples with cold water. They were hung in nurseries, hospitals, and schools across the country. Read more
Polish School of Posters: Vintage Film & Propaganda Posters
The Polish School of Posters was a loose collective of artists which were commissioned by the government to create film & propaganda posters. Artists were given a broadly ‘anti-western’ brief but left otherwise to their own devices.
The Polish School of Posters is as famous for its striking visual style as its scathing politics. Despite their propagandist intent, posters of the Polish School rely heavily on visual metaphors which often reveal a much more subversive message. Perhaps the most famous of these is the CYRK posters, many of which contain coded images criticising the Soviet regime. Vintage posters from renown Polish poster artists like Hubert Hilscher, Mieczyslaw Wasilewski, and Jakub Erol offer rare insight into the tension between political expression and artistic freedom. Read more
Protecting our Planet: Vintage Environmental Posters
The Soviet Union was proactive when it came to environmental protection. In the 1890s, nature sanctuaries were established all across Russia. Intended to be kept ‘forever wild’, access by the public was restricted in order to protect these sites of particular natural or cultural heritage
Environmental protection was enough of a priority in 1972 – that both the USSR and the USA signed the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection. Artists were directed to create nature themed posters that reminded people to keep the streams clean or that “April is the Month of Cleanliness”. But despite promising public policy and bold propaganda posters, the USSR is home to one of the worst ecological disasters of the 20th century. Read more
At the Circus: Vintage Soviet Cyrk Posters
The circus was the peoples’ entertainment. Unlike the ballet, it was accessible. Tickets were just a few dollars. It was Communist. In 1929, the USSR became the first country in the world with a state-run circus. It was a point of national pride and being a circus performer was a well-respected and highly coveted career. Thousands auditioned for the 70 spaces available at the school.
The state turned to poster artists to come up with a more modern aesthetic. The most famous posters to come out of this period were created by Polish School of poster artists like Jerzy Flisak, Wiktor Gorka and Andrzej Krajewski. They are characterised by bright colours, striking typography and an aesthetic playfulness. Read more