Cuban film posters prove creativity loves constraints. Widely upheld for their visually inventive style, these lively relics of the 1960s and 1970s are examples of timeless design. For post-revolutionary Cuba, the film industry became another means of promoting political agenda, and Cuban creatives leaned in to their political and economic limitations. The simplicity and focus of poster design was often shaped by tight budgets and limited ink supplies which saw designers move well away from vintage Hollywood-style illustration and toward a far more modern graphic language. Instead of detail they relied on colour, abstract images and minimalist typefaces to capture a mood.
Founded shortly after the revolution in 1959, the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) oversaw the production and promotion of all cinema in Cuba. Embargoes also meant all posters for foreign films were redesigned by a small but prolific stable of national designers (one of the country’s leading poster makers Eduardo Muñoz Bachs designed over 2,000). As all of them moved back and forth between designing both political and film posters, their eclectic styles were constantly in flux and made reference to a far-reaching range of influences from American graphic designers like Saul Bass and Czech film posters from the 1960s, to Pop Art and neo-Art Nouveau. This kind of stylistic melting pot is in itself one of the defining features of Cuban film posters.
Art and politics hang in a delicate balance in Cuba. In her 1970 essay about posters and politics, the inimitable American writer Susan Sontag argued they allowed the country’s two conflicting views of art to coexist: art that expresses the individual and art that serves the social. She also points out with entertainment being such a luxury in 60s and 70s Cuba there was little need for advertisement and every showing of even a minor movie would have sold out. In this way posters became more than supplementary to film and have continued to live on as vivid, stand-alone graphic works. A quick glance at their dramatic or whimsical designs and you will see why.
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