Colour in the City of Mumbai| Eye on Poland: An Exhibition of Vibrant Polish Graphic Designs

Whether one acknowledges it or not, we are witnessing the dawning of a new age — that of an image based culture, where the power of the visual, especially that of graphic design, is affecting a significant part of human life. One such prominent example is that of Polish poster art, which has established a unique position in the field of graphic design in the European subcontinent. It is in this context, the ongoing exhibition at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum titled ‘Eye on Poland’ aims to bring Polish graphic design to the forefront for the audience of Mumbai.

In collaboration with the Polish Institute New Delhi, the exhibition is co-curated by Magdalena Frankowska and Artur Frankowski, showcasing the evocative, yet aesthetically pleasing graphic design visuals. The exhibition displays an array of cinema and concert posters, CDs, album covers, providing an insight into the contemporary art practices of poster design prevailing in the Polish field of design. The exhibition is not only awe-inspiring in terms of the visual language, but also reflective of the complex historical and emotional engagement with poster art in Poland.

A tradition which is over a century old, the emergence of Polish poster art can be traced back to the communist rule which dominated the country during World War II. During that period, Poland was a victim to censorship and oppression, and the only art form which prevailed was that of the poster — mainly for cultural propaganda. As a result, leading Polish artists invested all their passion and effort solely in the enrichment of poster art, which later on laid the foundations for the ‘Polish Poster School’. Poster art then, often became perceived as a form of escapism from the dull atmosphere created by the communist regime.

However, even though Polish poster art during the 19th century carried with it undertones of a socio-political milieu, contemporary Polish poster art has transformed into an art form in search for a new expression of visual vocabulary. This growing tradition has been incorporated in the current exhibition, which brings together works of Jakub de Barbaro, Edgar Bak, Ada Bucholc, along with many other contemporaries.

For instance, in the exhibition, Grzegorz Laszuk’s poster titled ‘Romeo Juliet’, reflects the mood of tragedy, capturing Romeo falling into the hands of his ill fate, evoking feelings of desolation and hopelessness adding on to the viewer’s aesthetic experience. Equally intriguing is Ada Bucholc’s illustration for the cover of British magazine ‘Little White Lies’, which is renowned for its movie reviews and iconic covers. This cover, inspired by the movie — Maps to the Stars, features legendary actress Julianne Moore. The cover uses bright hues of pink and yellow, resembling prints made by pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Another piece titled ‘The Locomotive/Ideology’, depicts a monochrome text designed by artist Małgorzata Gurowsk, showcasing images of trains, Jews, troops, homosexuals, as well as animals. This poster carries undertones of anti-semitism and racism, further signifying the dark days of Polish history. Equally fascinating is the poster titled ‘Animals’, designed by Robert Czajka, which shows various animals in warm tones or orange and brown. The design template has given a modern twist to children’s story books by using the technique of minimalistic drawing.

Furthermore, other art works in the collection combine robust colours, mottos, and ordinary symbols to send out concise messages while keeping in mind a certain aesthetic sense. As curator Frankowska remarks, “The idea behind the exhibition is to take the viewer on a voyage through a wide range of styles, attitudes and design strategies reflecting the richness of the current Polish graphic design scene.”

However, one must keep in mind that the art of producing Polish posters is viewed as well as sold exclusively in spaces of museums and art galleries. Nevertheless, the sophisticated, vibrant, and aesthetically sound posters in the current collection have typified the spirit of the tradition of Polish poster art, aiming to make these posters accessible to a worldwide audience.

Author: stutikakar

Stuti Kakar holds a Master's degree in sociology, and is currently pursuing her M.Phil in sociology from Mumbai University. Her areas of interest include gender studies, art history, culture and Identity, and critical studies of science and technology. This blog reflects her interest in contemporary debates.

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