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Celebrating poster art

December 22, 2012

The poster is a form of art designed to be conspicuous and informative — instant communication. Though placards and boards were in popular theatrical use in the times of Shakespeare, it was in the 1870s when colour lithography was perfected that artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard began to explore the possibilities of the art that could be mass produced.

In Paris the poster was officially recognised as a vital art form when a major exhibition of posters was held in 1884. Since that time, posters have been used for advertising throughout the world. Though one is used to seeing posters scattered throughout towns, it is seldom that the art aspect of this medium captures the attention.

A great change came about in a recent exhibition at the Karachi Arts Council where a selection of 100 posters from over 3,000 artworks sent in from 105 countries on the topic, ‘Gender equality now’ was exhibited.

It was a brilliant event. The posters on show were a joy to behold, bright, witty and striking, and to the point; put together by great designers with a message that was instantaneous.

‘Poster for tomorrow’ is an idea that came into being in 2009 when an independent, non-profit, association was started by people both in and outside of the design community. Their objective was to encourage people from all over the world to make and exhibit posters to stimulate debates on subjects common to all. Calling for posters from around the world, in their first initiative they gave a clarion call: ‘One poster is a start, but one hundred, one thousand constitute a movement that can’t be denied’.

From Pakistan, graphic designer Khuda Bukhsh Abro enthusiastically represented Pakistan and four year on the organisation has hosted debates, seminars, conferences and workshops.

In 2011, Will Georgi from Britain and Tommaso Minnetti from Italy conducted a workshop at the Karachi University in which 30 students from the visual arts department participated.

This year an online pre-selection committee of 100 representatives from 50 countries included Abro, Durriya Kazi, Fakhar Ullah Tahir and Saima Zaidi who cast their votes to shortlist 400 posters from among the 3,020 entries. Subsequently 300 further shortlisted posters included the work of Huda Afzal and Mariam Fatima Quli, before an international jury of 12 renowned graphic designers selected the final 100 posters to be displayed.

The choice of 10 best posters from this edition came from Russia, France, Switzerland, Chile, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Australia, Austria and China, and has been selected for the permanent collections of prestigious international design museums around the world.

Viewing the work on the show one is moved from laughter at the humorous expressions and sadness at posters that read for example: ‘I want to choose my own life’; and the poster titled, ‘Spike’, depicting a beautiful African lady with barbed wire wound around her neck.

Then the sheer beauty of two green leaves from China, each bearing the gender symbol is stunning, and a particular favourite image is that of the female gender symbol breaking up and becoming a flight of birds.

Herve Matine, the founder of Poster for Tomorrow, dedicated this edition of work to Dr Farrokhroo Parsa (1922-80), a woman whose life was dedicated to fighting the issues addressed by the association. The organiser of the exhibition, Abro, is now planning to exhibit the work in Lahore in coordination with the National College of Arts (NCA); it is a show to be seen throughout the country.