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The Chairman Smiles

The former Soviet Union, Cuba, and China: three countries where posters played an important political role and received a large amount of artistic attention. This is a selection of 145 political posters, famous masterpieces as well as equally beautiful but unknown examples drawn from the collection of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.

'The Chairman Smiles' gives an image of stormy political developments. The Soviet posters chronicle the Revolution of 1917, the following civil war and the attempts to build a new society, the Five Year Plans of the 1930s and Joseph Stalin's dictatorship. Attempts to follow an independent course dominate the Cuban posters from the 1960s, with special attention to mobilizing and informing the people and to spreading culture.

The Chinese posters include not only a number from the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), with the glorification of Mao Zedong, idyllic scenes in agricultural communes and sharp attacks on political opponents, but also extremely rare posters from circa 1949 to the early 1960s, with the establishment of the People's Republic and the campaign for the Great Leap Forward . There are also posters from the 1980s and early 1990s, the period of Deng Xiaoping and the economic modernization.

Of course, the image these posters give is not impartial. They are the official propaganda of communist regimes, and the reality was often quite different than what is portrayed in the poster. But above all these posters are a feast to the eye. They were designed by gifted artists, for whom the poster was a unique opportunity to use their talents and reach a large audience at the same time.
It is difficult to choose favorites: the early Russian prints by artists as Radakov and Moor, Cheremnykh's wonderful 'Rosta', the spectacular Constructivist photomontages of the 30s, the exuberantly coloured Cuban silk screens, the informal portraits of Fidel Castro and icons of Che Guevara, the idyllic scenes of Chinese agricultural communes or the smiling Mao floating above crowds waving Little Red Books. These posters travelled the world as cultural showpieces and were very influential. Today they are valuable collectors' items.

This presentation is built around digitized images of 145 posters: 33 from the Soviet Union, 33 from Cuba, and 79 from China. The collection can be accessed through lists, by country. By clicking on the small images in the lists, larger images and background data are displayed.