review

Photostory: What graphic design can do in our time to build movements? 25 Solidarity poster designs reproduced from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Solidarity was one of the biggest social movements of the 20th century. As the leading political force opposing communism in Poland during the 1980s, it paved the way for a peaceful transition to democracy in 1989. The exhibition ‘Lost Treasures of Revolution: The Graphics of Solidarity 1980-89’ at the Barn Gallery in Oxford explores the role that graphics played in building the movement and sustaining it during the difficult days of government repression and martial law. From its iconic logo to spontaneous poster designs and underground ephemera, Solidarity’s printed graphics created a rich visual culture of resistance that spoke to people from all walks of society. By getting involved in making and circulating these items, often at great personal risk, many ordinary people participated in the collective and transformative work of opposition. 

‘Lost Treasures of Revolution’ is an exhibition that brings together 25 Solidarity poster designs reproduced from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum alongside a selection of original badges and rarely seen underground stamps that bear witness to the grassroots creative spirit of the movement in the 1980s. The exhibition concludes with a separate display of posters and graphics from current global social movements and community projects important from the English-speaking countries’ perspective. These prompt us to consider what graphic design can do in our time to build movements and foster participation and political dialogue. 

Catherine Flood, the exhibition curator, says “As well as famous poster designs, we are delighted to be showing a collection of underground postage stamps and graphic ephemera that provide vivid evidence of Solidarity’s multi-dimensional appeal in the 1980s. Most of these items were produced at a grassroots community level on small underground presses by designers and ordinary citizens working with few resources to create a new democratic beginning.

As issues of social inequality and alienation are thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic, it is timely to reflect on the means by which social movements can bring people together through collective action.” 

The exhibition is a part of the Annual Conference of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict (CRIC) held each year at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford. This year, from 20 th to 22nd September 2021, in addition to research reports from CRIC members, the conference will explore the postpandemic world through the lens of ‘Solidarity’. The exhibition has been organised in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and St John’s College, University of Oxford. 

22 September 2021 – 8 October 2021 

The Barn Gallery, St John’s College, University of Oxford, Oxford Free Admission 

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