Despite the deluge of electronic information, the poster remains a means of communication today. And though its potency has been somewhat diluted by the information superhighway, graphic designers remain steadfast in their adoration for the poster's ability to stop us in our tracks, and strive to keep it alive. One way is through exhibitions like the 13th International Invitational Poster Exhibition.
Every two years, Colorado State University hosts this international exhibition, the only one of its kind in the United States. It puts Fort Collins, Colorado, on the map with Brno, Czech Republic, Lahti, Finland, Tokyo, Japan, México City, México and Warsaw, Poland-the cities which host the only other five international poster exhibitions. The six-week long exhibition began last September and featured over 190 original posters from over 100 graphic artists representing 35 countries.
Exhibitions of this kind are important in bringing international perspectives on environmentalism, global peace, human rights, social justice and consumer corporate culture to the table, reminding us that these issues are paramount. As a vehicle for these global issues, the poster itself is often restricted. When this occurs in different locales around the world, it is an affirmation that the poster is still a viable medium, a voice that informs the public causing swift visceral reactions.
The exhibition's honor laureate, artist, designer and filmmaker Chaz Maviyane-Davies, is only too familiar with controversy and adverse political climates. Over the last two decades, the award-winning Zimbabwean designer's work has tackled consumerism, health, nutrition, social responsibility, the environment and human rights. Due to adverse political conditions in his homeland, he moved to the USA in 2001, where he is currently an associate professor of design at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.
Having just returned from a poster festival in Chaumont, France, where only the cream-of-the-crop of posters were recognized, Chaz Maviyane-Davies said, "I felt that design in the service of the bill poster was beginning to lose its way. Typographic gymnastics and the cosmetic were hailed before content delivery. It probably spoke more about the vacuous lives that surrounded the spectators, who like me seemed baffled at this celebration of the numb."
Keeping that in mind, when asked about the Colorado Poster Exhibition and his judging criteria, Maviyane-Davies said he did not approach the exhibition with any preconceived criteria. "I first immersed myself in the variety and enormity of the work in front of me," he said. "In many ways, I was looking forward to seeing any sorts of commentary about the current state of the world, and I found very few that I hadn't seen before. But this did not stop me from being swayed by the dedication and skill of the poster practitioners who in many cases used the medium to its fullest to impact their message.
"When it came to choosing what I felt was the best of a wonderful collection of work, I was struck by the power of those creations that had dug deep into their humanity to deliver messages consummate with their purpose. These tended to be simple, effective and ennobling, harking back to a time when we enjoyed the true artistic and conceptual residue inherent in good graphic design."
The three award winners exemplified these qualities.
!Ole! Goya-Posada by Renato Aranda Rodriguez, México drew an emphatic response from Maviyane-Davies: "What a perfect passionate metaphor to juxtapose the great cultures of Spain (Goya) and (Posada) México. In its simplicity, impact and execution (literally), this 2-color work exemplifies the power and emotive strength of the poster at its best and needs no words besides Ole to give it the movement invoked by its message. The religious, symbolic overtones are given clarity through the composition whose stark silhouette fills the poster with its pain and pleasure."
The poignant poster, Life by Kazumasa Nagai, Japan, evoked these comments: "Here is mythology made alive through the pen of a master. Can a simple pen stroke convey the message of life in such a transfixing way? Simple and direct, this illustration overwhelms us through art brought to life. When a poster stares back at you with the heart that this one does, then you know it is working."
Imaya Wong's, Malaysia, Humble Series I–III show a reverence for humanity through this medium that one might not have thought possible. Maviyane-Davies was struck by this evocative work: "This series of three posters almost whispers its message of humility to us. They transcend an explosion of color to utilize the human frame, naked and vulnerable, to appeal to our often understated mortality. In a world of war, power and aggression these posters appear as a sage to remind us that we can also listen to a poster with our eyes and massage the inner sensitivity that we are all born with to consider the values we all deeply strive for. The use of the inverted negative image captures our frailty and spirituality, as the gestures chosen perfectly vocalize the messages they are meant to share:
No impetuosity, No arrogance, No showing off.
Complacency is the root of loss and modesty is the cause of gain.
Only those who tolerate insignificant insults can achieve great success.
Only those who bear great disgrace can finally wipe out the greatest humiliations."
Maviyane-Davies concludes, "Colorado reaffirmed that there were designers out in the world who contemplated more than their navel, by continuing to add another glorious layer to our lives by celebrating our inner truths and sharing these in the best way they know." ca