Billboards, placards, hoardings, handbills, flyers, wall chalking, graffiti and signboards are some of the physical modes through which effective advertising has been practised over the years, especially during the last two centuries. The contemporary poster, as we know it today, originated from artist Jules Cheret’s lithographic production for the Parisian theatre in 1867 to publicise the distinguished actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Subsequently, Toulouse-Lautrec made posters to promote the Parisian nightlife while Paris-based Czech artist Alphonse Mucha produced remarkable posters using symbolism, ornamentation and naturalism; the characteristics of art nouveau that accentuated the public’s interest in posters.
International poster exhibitions nowadays are a source of awareness to social issues, intellectual exchange and global harmonisation. Noteworthy poster exhibitions that were held at Karachi in the past are Right to Education (December 2011) and Gender Equality Now (December 2012).
Synchronised perfectly with the national elections 2013, the recent exhibition of 100 selected posters titled, Draw me Democracy - I Vote Therefore I am, at the Arts Council, Karachi, has been organised by visual artist Khuda Bux Abro who represents Poster for Tomorrow in Pakistan in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Arts Council Karachi. The Project has been funded by United Nation Democracy Fund (UNDEF).
The title ‘Draw me democracy’ for posters, was assigned by ‘4 Tomorrow Association’, based in Paris, France, to 15 countries (Pakistan, Bolivia, Botswana, Ecuador, Ghana, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Greece, India, Kenya, Mexico, Ukraine, Macedonia, Morocco and Tunisia), where workshops were held and works chosen.
Poster by Karla Sotomayor Alejandre of Bolivia, portrays an oval seal of half a brain and half a thumb print, composed with a simple punch-line at the bottom that reads ‘I think, then I vote’. This composition is an effective example of the minimalist character that is obvious in modern posters. On earth-coloured background, the split thumbprint leaves a bold meaningful impact on the observer.
With the caption ‘More than 42 per cent women in Pakistan can’t read or write — vote for change’ is a poster by Syeda Maria Ayaz of Pakistan. It has been composed with three books stacked like a ballot box, while a silhouetted hand inserts a vote in a slot on the uppermost book — an idea that is self-explanatory — educating women is crucial to progress and progress comes with the right leadership.
José Luis Barrera Salinas of Mexico has minimalised his design to just four red patches on a white background in a circle emulating a lifebuoy with two words: ‘Life’ and ‘Vote’ in white. The message is instantly evident and the viewers would connect the composition to the life-saving role of a vote that is casted with conscientiousness and diligence. In order to steer the country in the right direction and to fortify its sovereignty, the right decision is crucial and lifesaving!
"One vote does make a difference" is the title of a poster which shows four black birds on the one telephone cable and five birds on the other. Under the additional weight of the fifth bird, shown in red, the cable yields and flexes more than the cable with four birds. Designed by Marna Janse van Rensburg of Botswana, the poster with its stark white ground brings out the simplified silhouettes of the birds quite strongly thus making an effective visual statement.
Huda Afzal of Pakistan came up with a brilliant idea of a tree and its roots representing the country. The roots of the tree have been intertwined with the word ‘vote’ while the fruits of the tree are symbolised with food, water, electricity and gas. To bolster the impact of the poster the caption above the drawing reads ‘Our country can’t grow without votes’. With a dominant green, the poster describes the country’s entire predicament and provides a panacea of ‘vote’ to erase the problems faced by the public.
Rooshna Fatima of Pakistan’s poster titled, ‘I vote, we win’ is a graphic picture of a youth defiantly showing a big ‘V’ with his right hand, brightly coloured with an overwhelming pink and scarlet. The 1960s vintage flavour of the boldly tinted communist handbills is immediately discernible from this poster, which boasts the artist’s command on composition and colour.
With the word ‘vote’ inscribed on a basket ball that is shown landing inside the goal ring is the graphic composition of a poster made by Omar Tinoco of Mexico. The emphasis of the designer is on directing the vote to the right direction in order to win the leadership of sincere front-runners that are focused only on national progress and prosperity of people.
Durriya Kazi, chairperson, department of visual studies (DVS), Karachi University, present at the inaugural exhibition, acknowledged the efforts of the sponsors and organisers who had also arranged a poster workshop at the DVS. She was impressed with the works of international artists and emphasised the need to arrange frequent shows across Pakistan, to create effective awareness to crucial national issues and promote the potential of visual language.