Exhibition of communist propaganda opens in Prague

Photo: www.guk-prague.cz

State propaganda was widespread in the regimes of the former Soviet Bloc, where people were constantly bombarded with information on how lucky they were to be living in a workers' paradise. Now, a new exhibition called Power of Images, Images of Power has opened in Prague, which is displaying a collection posters from the 20th century promoting the virtues of the communist system.

Photo: www.guk-prague.cz
Jan Trestik is one of the owners of the gallery putting on the exhibition. So why did he feel it was important to compile these images of communist propaganda and to present them to the public?

"There are two aspects [to it]. First, some of these posters are really nice - in terms of graphics. Second, if you actually think about the message behind these posters, you get a strange feeling. It was quite a challenge to do this exhibition, because we think many of the aspects and features seen in the posters are still alive today. We think that propaganda and ideology could be dangerous in the future as well."

The posters are accompanied by quotes from famous texts on totalitarian systems by authors such as Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin.

Photo: www.guk-prague.cz
Tomas Bojar, who studies politics and law at Charles University, chose most of them and feels they help place the images people see in their proper context.

"I believe that these posters should not be perceived primarily as pieces of art. All the artists who actually served the criminal regime were mere instruments and therefore we were trying to show the story of communist totalitarianism. These posters were supposed to illustrate certain features and certain important aspects of it."

So what sort of response has Mr Bojar got from people visiting the exhibition?

Photo: www.guk-prague.cz
"Basically, people are rather surprised by the actual strength of the posters, and sometimes even horrified. Some people obviously just come to laugh and they are only impressed by the absurdity of the posters. But some people are aware of the suffering that's behind them and really remember the atrocities of communist rule. They have thanked us for putting on this exhibition and for showing the real essence of communist totalitarianism."

One striking feature of the exhibition, which can be followed chronologically, is how the powerful early images of communist workers building a perfect society give way to crass pictures from the 1970s and 80s depicting plump happy socialist families in their homes or young communists on holiday in Bulgaria.

Tomas Bojar says this epitomises the entire socialist experiment:

"We find this ending of the exhibition rather metaphorical, and we believe that the style of the posters actually illustrates the sad ending of communism, where the original enthusiasm of the workers and the ideologues vanished and what remains is just what I would call a total 'goulash.' These images are still included in the exhibition just to show the sad story."

The exhibition is being held at Galerie U Krizovniku beside Charles Bridge until 30 March.