- When Walls Talk!
- Borders and connections
This section deals with the reality of borders and the ways of crossing them. Borders can be physical or man-made, political or mental. Europe is central to ongoing debates over migration and human rights on the one hand and national sovereignty and protectionism on the other. It is seen as both a haven of human rights and a cruel fortress.
Whilst transport can help us to physically traverse borders, culture can bring people together. Cultural events, sport, festivals and fairs encourage exchange and mutual understanding, and help to define the social, cultural, economic and private aspects of being European.
Borders and immigrants
The contemporary relevance of borders can be seen in the multitude of organisations representing the theme in posters. These posters oscillate between optimism, fear, idealism and sad reality and reflect both the restrictive character of borders and their protective function. They stress the contradictions in European societies and the conflicts of interests that surround immigration policy.
In France, during the spring of 1968, left-wing students started to protest against the political mainstream. A new type of poster, named the ‘anti-poster’, was used as a social and political means to incite active engagement.
This colourful and idealised poster (below) for the German Green Party advocates for openness and communication in Europe as a way to strengthen diversity and humanity in politics.
The Schengen Agreement abolished border checks among most countries in the European Union and included Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Currently, it allows freedom of movement between 26 countries. This Swiss poster (below) stokes fear and insecurity to oppose the Agreement.
From the 1990s onwards, photography is increasingly used in posters to depict fragments of cruel reality. More hard-hitting than text or illustration, showing people in inhumane situations is much more likely to catch public attention.
This poster (below) was part of a provocative and controversial campaign in 1992. The clothing company Benetton was accused of exploiting humanitarian issues for commercial interests. Others saw advantages in using advertising for consumer goods to raise awareness of social problems.
The years between 1950 and 1980 were a golden age for mass tourism, thanks to the increasing prosperity of the general population. Graphic designers turned the skills they honed during wartime to selling new messages of leisure and peace. In western European travel posters, nations were broadly represented by landmarks and national dress. The Eastern bloc of communist countries were separated ideologically and physically, with prohibitive travel rules and strict state monitoring of destinations and advertising until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
Improvements in cross-border cooperation from the 1950s brought new endeavours such as the Trans Europ Express (TEE). Linking 130 cities across the continent, the lines form the basis of today’s western European rail networks. Their poster designs favour dynamic diagonal lines to focus on the speed and might of the machine.
In contrast to the wartime propaganda machine that churned out urgent messages for the public to work together, follow the rules, and make sacrifices to support the war effort, in the 1950s and ‘60s, governments and various public service institutions turned their efforts towards new public communication concerned with health and safety. There was a steep rise in the production of posters across the entire continent warning people against accidents at work or risky behaviour like stepping onto train tracks. This Hungarian example from 1964 deftly blends photomontage and illustration in a nod to some of the great Constructivist poster designers of the 1920s and ‘30s.
The world’s first motorway was created for tourism in 1924, connecting Milan to the Italian lakes. As more people were able to afford cars in the post-war period, road building boomed, speeding up cross-border travel and commerce. Advertisements for road travel reflected this new spirit, making road travel appear exciting, adventurous and liberating.
National airlines emerged in the 1920s following the development of aircraft design that came about in the First World War, but remained an expensive luxury. Air tourism accelerated after the Second World War, partly due to the destruction of land routes by wartime bombing. Posters appealed to the lucrative American market, with London, Paris, Rome and Istanbul some of the most popular destinations. Greater affordability from the 1960s began the trend of mass tourism that we know today.
Historic dress has been liberally exploited to represent European nations in travel posters of this period. A 1950s advertisement for Irish Air Lines shows Spain represented by a flamenco dancer, Ireland as a young woman in green with a cláirseach - the Celtic harp which appears on Irish coins and heraldry, Switzerland is represented by the folkloric tale of the archer William Tell with an apple on his head, and Britain is a Yeoman Warder or Beefeater of the Tower of London. The poster was designed by Piet Sluis, a Dutch artist born in 1929, who moved to Ireland in the early 1950s.
Orbis, the Polish travel office, created this poster that promises endless possibilities of travel around Europe and the world. It seems to suggest to travellers: ‘carry the world in your bag!’ In reality, travel rules in the Eastern bloc countries were extremely restrictive.
Fairs and festivals
Since the late 18th century, world fairs have presented unprecedented opportunities for European countries to show off their latest trends and achievements. During the 19th century, these fairs were being used to assert Europe’s cultural and economic dominance.
In the interwar period, fairs were co-opted more brazenly to promote political ideologies. After the Second World War, the separation of arts and industry led to an explosion of music, theatre and art festivals. Posters in different styles from these events reflect the variety and diversity of European culture.
The Paris exhibition of 1937 opened in the context of growing far-right nationalism in Europe, alongside Stalin’s forceful cult of personality in the Soviet Union. The poster features a personification of Liberty.
The European Weeks of Passau started in 1952 as an initiative of American soldiers and the City of Passau. The Festival’s goal was to create interaction between European people and overcome political barriers by inviting people from both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Considered by many today as sexist, beauty pageants were hugely popular. The 1968 ‘Miss Europe’ contest did not take place as planned. The student uprisings that shook France in 1968 forced the final to move from Nice to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956. From a group of just seven western European countries initially, the contest has grown over the years, with 42 countries taking part in the 2017 edition in Kyiv. The tagline ‘Celebrate Diversity’ summarises the inclusive heart of the event.
Sport contributes to the formation of identities, and for some people it is the ideal form of recreation. It can also reflect political and geopolitical competition, tension, or balance and cooperation. In the last century, sport has provided opportunities to come together alongside world-shaking events and upheavals. Coupled with the sporting drive to win and physically dominate, it is therefore not surprising that posters for sporting events have been co-opted to pass on political messages.
The poster for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin favours a monumental perspective, conveying the National Socialist ideal of racial superiority. In contrast, the poster for the first Olympic Games after the war (London 1948) places a smaller discus thrower at eye level against the Houses of Parliament, thereby showing a humanist approach.
The European Nations’ Cup was an initiative of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Starting from the third tournament in 1968, its name changed to ‘European Football Championship’, or in short, the Euros. The originally featured four national teams in the final tournament increased to eight in 1980 and to sixteen in 1996.
The 1984 edition of the European Football Championship was an exciting one, probably because the greater number of participating teams helped raise the level and quality of the competition. The ‘Euro 84’ poster is a work by the famous French graphic artist Raymond Savignac, who was self-taught and produced uncomplicated works that combined humour and elegance.