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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion @ British Library

Thankfully on my recent trip to the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition at the British Library there was not a ‘Keep Calm’ poster in sight and ‘carrying on’ was not on the agenda for this exploration of international state propaganda from the 20th and 21st century. Delving into the purpose of published state media to inform, create community and enforce ideas the exhibition was simple and effective in its approach yet not so basic that only War Posters were discussed.



In fact the exhibition was so much more than expected. Although I am a massive fan of WW1 public health posters I was really pleased to see that the British Library explore the material away from books. The exhibition featured numerous news clips both old and very recent alongside badges, souvenir statues and a discussion of how modern social media can have power and persuasion for both the masses and the State. Actually I was so inspired by this exhibition that I  came away critically assessing today’s state media and needing to re-read some of my favourite political texts.


It was great to see some old favourite health posters such as this one:


Created by James Fitton for The Ministry of Food 1945 – 1951 the image was commissioned to encourage parents to give their limited milk ration to their children.  The poster shows exactly what we find so timelessly charming about WW1 and WW2 posters a simple image, straight to the point slogan and exageration of a basic necessity. Making the audience feel part of a community and cared for. 

Away from the much loved posters the discussion of national monuments as symbols of propaganda rarely makes as much of an impact. Topically covered in the exhibition the cult of personality statues and competative and powerful sky scrapers were represented by repeatedly filling the space with model souvenirs. It was encouraging to see objects rather than books but it could have been debated further.

Disappointed  at the lack of text and discussion of Maps as an effective and everyday form of state propaganda, Ifound  the subheading of 'Nation' infuriatingly disappointing. Although money, stamps and commemorative coins were heavily discussed as a creation of cult personality and national pride the basic symbol of a Nation was not. It would have been advantageous to the exhibition to explore the concept of 'state' further and how imposed borders are the very basic form of propaganda. Maybe its because of the Magnificant Maps: Power Propaganda and Art exhibition of 2010, but surely that  just proves they know how important maps are to the role of the state (and that they have plenty in the stores!)  so guys could you not have put a one or two more in? 

See he finds maps as fascinating as I do!


Not to get too bogged down with the negatives and political theories it was a thoroughly thought provoking exhibition with some recognizable images and few facts you might not expect. But it only skims the surface of the power and persuasion of propaganda. Make sure you go with a critical mind ready to delve deeper in the reading rooms. 

Open until the 17th September. Propaganda: Power and Persuasion costs £9


If you would like to read further into the topic of state propaganda my favourite book on Nationalism is ‘Imagined Communities’ by Benedict Anderson, a critical historical – sociological theory. 


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