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- Graphic Design

Center for the Study of Political Graphics

The Center for the Study of Political Graphics is an independent non-profit organization based in LA and lead by Carol Wells. Since 1981, the CSPG collects and exhibits posters and it is a democratic experience for social change. Marta Almeida talked to Carol Wells about her engagement.


Why were you interested in political posters?

It took a poster just a moment to transform me from indifferent to obsess. In graduate school at UCLA, I studied medieval art history under O.K. Werckmeister – who now lives in Berlin – and learned that all art is political. For 13 years I taught at California State University Fullerton about the art of the rich and powerful. As an activist I attended demonstrations protesting the policies of the rich and powerful. These two dimensions of my life never merged until 1981, when I visited Nicaragua to document and collect the art of the Sandinista revolution.

Which is your favorite poster?

I’m always amazed at the ability of artists to take complex ideas and express them in powerful designs. My favorite poster is the one that changed my life in Nicaragua. Objectively, it is not a great poster. I watched a child of 8 or 9 suddenly encountering a poster. He stared at the image and text trying to understand the meaning. At that moment I had an epiphany about how posters work. People go about their daily lives and suddenly see something unexpected. A poster grabs their attention though its color and/or bold graphic, and prompts a closer consideration. The poster challenges the viewer or makes them ask a question. At that moment, from being indifferent, I became obsessed with collecting posters.

U. G. Sato


What is the contribution of the CSPG?

I originally founded CSPG as a resource for activists, as a tool for organizing. We don’t know our own history, especially the successes progressive communities have achieved over the years. There is an African slogan, »Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.« The posters tell the story of the lions in the lions’ own words. CSPG is a repository of progressive iconography, and the posters are primary historical documents that challenge those in power.



Lex Drewinski


And the future of the posters?

There is currently a poster explosion. Historically, poster makers faced the challenge of distribution. The Internet makes the transmission of images easy and instantaneous. In 2011, a design made in the U.S. was carried on the streets of Cairo during the Arab Spring – barely 24 hours after it was published. Given the increasing repression taking place throughout the world, people will continue to use posters to organize, educate, and call attention to their causes.

This article was first published in novum 08.18 (novum+ »Poster«). Single copies are available: