Communism propaganda exhibit brings Bulgarians smiles

18th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The exhibited incited laughter but also attracted more serious attention, as many of the posters dwell on key international issues of the time.

Sofia -- Twenty years after the fall of communism, a new exhibit in Sofia this week had Bulgarians smiling in amusement at the propaganda and political slogans of that time.

"Comrades, do not ruin communist property, it is our heritage!" warned a black-and-white poster at the entrance of the exhibition, which ran this week at Sofia's National Art Academy.

Most visitors recognised this slogan, which could once be seen in classrooms, hospital and public buildings. But lesser known gems followed inside.

"Show patriotic zeal with timely harvesting," "Our permanent task -- high quality," "Zero pay for low-quality produce..." and "USSR -- symbol of peace" were splashed in large print across the gallery's walls in the same way these slogans once adorned old factory and farm walls across the country.

"Of course, I have seen many of these before, I can even say I have lived them," said artist Rosen Markovski, explaining that his task during his obligatory army service during communism was to print propaganda posters.

"I like them. My favourite was: Every working hand on its feet!" giggled another middle-aged visitor, Kostadinka Miladinova.

The exhibition of communist propaganda slogans and posters did not initially aim to have this effect on people.

Entitled "PolitProp -- 21 examples of communication design in the communist era" and presented during Sofia Design Week, it was actually meant to inspire young designers and artists by drawing on the purely aesthetic, artistic quality of the posters, curator Andrean Neshev said.

"By taking a step back we sought to encourage artists to move two steps forward as good design quality like this is lacking today," he added.

But the exhibit attracted a much broader range of people, some of whom had nothing to do with art but were just gripped by the posters' message.

"The communication is so clear, strict and strong," Neshev said.

In contrast to the rousing communist slogans that sparked laughter, the posters attracted more serious glances as most dwelled on key international issues of the time.

The 20 original prints were selected from the private collection of industrial designer Boris Vladimirov, who owns about 5,000 posters and whose grandfather once worked at the state "September" printing house, which was tasked with all print-media propaganda during the 45-year communist rule.

The picture of a seated woman with an afro hairstyle, clasping her chained hands in her lap and titled "Freedom for Angela!," caused questioning looks from two 18-year-olds, Gergana and Georgy.

Neither of them knew about US communist activist Angela Davis, who was tried and acquitted in 1972 for involvement in a courthouse shoot-out that killed four people, including a judge.

But the two girls said they found "cool" a poster of a black mushroom cloud wrapped in a red ribbon that said "Moratorium", and another with the words "Vietnam will win" above the silhouette of a child drawing a downed US plane.

"If you get away from the content, you can find here very interesting graphic solutions," an art teacher explained to a class of seventh graders he brought to the exhibition.

He specifically praised a red-and-white print of builders working among the steel reinforcements of a construction site that read "Let's welcome May 1 with work achievements", and a black-and-red Lenin profile simply inscribed with "1917" -- the year Lenin took over as Soviet leader.

To others, the art quality did not matter: "NOSTALGIA" was the only word written in the book of comments by a woman who identified herself simply as "Hristova, a pensioner."

"We have had all kinds of people -- from students to pensioners, from artists to complete laymen -- and they were all provoked in some way, regardless of whether they liked it or not," exhibition assistant Leda Patasheva said.

While preparing the exhibition, she and her colleagues anticipated "an uneasy reaction to the topic," she admitted. But they were happy to find that people liked it and many asked where they could see Vladimirov's full poster collection.

Bulgaria was one of the staunchest Soviet satellites during communism and its Socialist government is still accused by analysts of failing to free itself completely from Russia's orb.

The exhibit closed on Friday, but the huge interest has already prompted organisers to consider preparing another similar exhibit of propaganda posters.

Diana Simeonova/AFP/Expatica

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