By Sara Vega Miche
First came the creation of a Cuban institution dedicated to cinema, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, or ICAIC, established in Havana in 1960. Then the lobby of its venue opened to display posters on the ceilings, walls, and later in its galleries. Over the years and across the island in homes and offices, the posters have been considered a form of artistic expression for daily enjoyment. They have received countless prizes and for the more than 50 years they have been visible in Cuba and abroad.
The posters form part of private and state collections and museums, and they are reproduced in publications as examples of good design. In the second half of the 20th century they made their sudden appearance on Cuban streets and avenues and in spaces formerly taken up by billboards. Metal structures popularly known as paragüitas (small umbrellas), were erected on several sidewalks in the capital for their display. They appeared permanently in Cuban movie theater lobbies. They transformed the urban landscape and created the bases for cinematographic, political, and cultural promotion. In 2017 they were included in the World Register National Program and in the World Register for Latin America and the Caribbean, both granted by UNESCO. In 2018 they were given the status of Cultural Heritage of the Cuban Nation.
Since the early 1960s, Los carteles del ICAIC (The ICAIC posters), as they were popularly known (beyond the political posters and others for social campaigns and national institutions), promoted new Cuban films and others lesser-known cinema in Cuba. They were designed for all types of cinematic events: exhibitions, film weeks, retrospectives. Bearers of new images, the posters began to appear everywhere inciting the public to decode different messages and contribute to forming more discerning spectators with better aesthetic taste.
The already emblematic designers responsible for this new experience were Eduardo Muñoz Bachs, Antonio Fernández Reboiro, Antonio Pérez (Ñiko), Alfredo Rostgaard, Rafael Morante, René Azcuy and many others who joined this fascinating cultural task, enthralled by that magic of texts, forms, and colors that the designing of movie posters represented.
Together with the designers, the workshop operators where the posters were printed had the merit of resolving numerous technical problems with the artisanal silk screen, which gave the posters a distinctive mark determined by the textures, color planes and fretwork. Those posters were effective from a communications standpoint, not just for their intended audience but also as the subject of articles and essays by Cuban and foreign specialists.
The book The Art of Revolution, by Dugald Stermer and Susan Sontag, was published in 1970 with an important essay by the latter regarding the posters produced during those first 10 years, which she distinguishes from other posters produced by ICAIC. The designers from this institution differentiated their work thanks to the freedom with which they assumed, without restrictions, the act of creation, and to artistic appropriations from all over the world. They had no qualms in adopting fashionable artistic trends and inserting any useful expressive element for the transmission of their graphic messages. his is how illustrations, photos, clippings, old and modern vignettes, and a careful and audacious composite style can be seen.
In 1979, a major exhibition of posters at Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts commemorated the 20th anniversary of ICAIC’s founding and was a heartfelt homage to Saúl Yelín (creator and promoter of cinematographic arts, who passed away in 1977). The exhibition 1000 carteles cubanos de cine (1000 Cuban Film Posters) was put on for the enjoyment of both the public and specialists, demonstrating the transcendence of the posters produced over just two decades.
Since the early 1980s, however, there were hints of a national economic crisis, the consequences of which became apparent by a marked decrease in the exhibition of foreign films in Cuban movie theaters. Therefore, posters began to be produced solely for the promotion of national cinema. It was possible to see signs of creative exhaustion, albeit in such a reduced production. During the following decade some efforts were made to try to remedy this crisis, with the participation of new designers set on collaborating and trying to give continuity to the prestigious ICAIC graphic legacy of artists such as Eduardo Marín, Vladimir de León, Manuel Marcel, Fabián Muñoz and Ernesto Ferrand, among others who have continued this effort to make posters for Cuban films and cinematographic events since 1999. Nelson Ponce, Giselle Monzón, Raúl Valdés (RAUPA), Michelle Miyares Hollands, and Claudio Sotolongo, among others, are working with new software and digitalization programs to design posters to be printed on silk screen. They are encouraged by the fact that they are carrying on the legacy and history of designers who left a legitimate imprint in the past and remain points of reference today.
In 2016, Yumey Besú created the project CartelON Gráfica Cubana, a program to promote silk screen design in Cuba, which has generated poster contests and seeks to give continuity to the tradition of producing cultural posters using this technique in Cuba. This project also manages the printing and montage of their exhibitions. Since 2016 it has been generating work with a high aesthetic quality and paving the way for the discovery of new talents. Its first project was the Poster Contest for the 30th Anniversary of the Cuban International School of Film and Television (EICTV), followed by other projects such as: Guernica, 80 años; Clásicos restaurados del cine latinoamericano; Artes de Cuba: de la Isla para el mundo (posters later exhibited in Washington’s Kennedy Center in 2018); and Centenario de Ingmar Bergman. Posters are being produced for the exhibition Clásicos restaurados del cine europeo, which will be displayed during the Havana Film Festival in its 40th year (2018). CartelOn represents a favorable alternative for the development of poster design on the island and the possibility of recognizing the talent of our emerging graphic artists.