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Billboards in the Revolution

Billboards in the Revolution

By Victoria Alcalá

The first time I left Cuba to visit a “non-Socialist” country, what surprised me the most were the countless advertising and election billboards inundating San José, the capital of Costa Rica. I had forgotten the Havana of my childhood years when I had been dazzled by the swimmer plunging from a diving board to advertise a certain brand of bathing suit, the glasses filling up with frothy beer and other neon signs that provided color to the city at night. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the horror vacui of that Central American capital in which a photograph of a politician and his electoral promises was superimposed over the ad for a brand of tire, and both of them were oddly flowing together with the blond silky locks of a model proclaiming the virtues of a certain shampoo.

The contrast forced me to consider how, in a few short years, billboards and posters advertising a spectrum of products and services had disappeared from my hometown, not to mention those ugly political posters. A completely different image was created for Havana. First, the number of decreased along with the nature of the billboards, which were adapted to the open areas. Advertising gave way to propaganda, to the Revolutionary epic, to the challenges for the future and to important collective efforts. The creativity of their designers extended to political agitation, solidarity with other peoples and even to topics that may seem rather “dry” like saving water and electricity. Generally these messages were transmitted with wit and a minimum of resources. I especially loved the posters for movies and the theater—genuine works of art, immensely contemporary and showing incredible imagination. But unfortunately these too have been disappearing.

In recent years we have been seeing a predominance of verbal propaganda, huge spaces covered with words, sometimes accompanied by images that reiterate the message. Every now and then, however, we have been pleasantly surprised by the stunning leap of a ballet dancer in the middle of Revolution Square, the ingenious announcement of an impending cultural event, or a well-conceived public wellbeing campaign, such as No Violence Against Women, or the celebration of the country’s natural and cultural heritage. Add to these the spontaneous written or painted messages on walls that go from political slogans to declarations of love, the work of today’s legitimate heirs to the artists who, on the walls of the Altamira Cave, gave expression to the very human need of making their dreams, hopes and desires live on into eternity.

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