After World War II, as Poland’s ravaged cities went about the task of rebuilding, help came from the country’s artists. Streets, buildings, even broken wooden fences, were livened up with posters that retained easily recognisable metaphors without compromising on the artist’s individuality. The resultant posters, before long, became a national tradition.
That tradition, started in the 1950s, is now a genre unto itself. With vivid colours and elements of humour and fantasy, the Polish school of poster art tells a unique story of creativity during a time of suppression. An exhibition, titled Eye on Poland at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, puts together a collection of contemporary Polish posters which, despite their contemporariness, speak of the history of the Polish art form.
Curated by Magdalena Frankowska and Artur Frankowski, the works at the exhibition have been selected from hundreds of books and posters designed by Polish artists and designers in the last four years in association with cultural institutions, museums, foundations and art galleries.
“The last few years have seen a dynamic development of graphic design in Poland,” said co-curator Frankowska. “An interesting phenomenon is also the development of independent publishing. The result is often high-quality, cutting-edge design marking new directions.”
Polish graphic design is gaining increasing recognition around the world. The reason is not only the work done by old-school poster artists such as Henryk Tomaszewski, Roman Cieślewicz and Jan Lenica, but also the works of a younger generation.
“The idea behind the exhibition is to take the viewer on a voyage through a wide range of styles, attitudes and design strategies reflecting the richness of the current Polish graphic design scene,” said Frankowska. “We are convinced that despite the process of globalisation, the tradition, native language and cultural identity have a considerable impact on the contemporary graphic language.”
The works of artists such as Małgorzata Gurowska, Agata Dudek and Ola Niepsuj showcase how Polish artists are approaching popular culture and newer art forms, while keeping in mind traditional aesthetics.
For instance, in the book The Locomotive/Ideology, artist Gurowska put her spin to a children’s poem by Polish poet Julian Tuwim that describes a train. Gurowska and journalist Joanna Ruszczyk presented the poem as a commentary on social injustice, anti-Semitism and racism. In The Locomotive/Ideology, the train wagons are depicted as occupied by Jews, homosexuals, soldiers and animals.
Along with posing social and political question, the posters at the exhibition also boast influences of contemporary aesthetics along with technological innovations in art and graphic design.
Eye on Poland is on display at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Mumbai, till July 31.