How Have Images and Designs Been Used as Social Protest and Propaganda?

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How have images and designs been used as tools of social protest or propaganda?

"Where there is activism there are graphics"1, where there is politics there is graphic shock. Art and propaganda have gone hand in hand for hundreds of years. Communication via visual forms has enabled global concerns to be seen by everyone. Our culture is lead by carefully crafted words and images, they can control and have the power to shape society's responses.

In 1916 an art movement began, that abandoned all forms of law and government, and threw off all tradition. Dada was based on principles of deliberate anarchy, rejection of beauty and believed in chance events. "Art should altogether get a sound thrashing", Dadaist Richard Hulsenbeck, "and Dada stands for that thrashing with all the vehemence of its limited nature" 2 . Photomontage offered a more direct way of producing propaganda imagery within the Dada movement. This technique required no specialist skills and therefore changes the perception that an artist is trained.

An early example of deliberate propaganda is Pablo Picasso's Guernica. This political painting was commissioned by Spain's Republican government, who asked for a mural-sized picture for the spanish pavilion of the 1937 Paris world's fair3 . The topic of the Guernica was initiated from the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica. This painting portrays outrage and is an important statement within the politico - cultural alliance. Many argued that the Guernica was too vague in describing its topic, and said that the meaning was dependent on its title and context. Yet many political posters of that time would not be legible in context without their written slogans. Propaganda images are formulated to communicate individually and consequently the Guernica was designed to be understood along with spanish Civil War images.


The Guernica raised the question - "does it work?". In comparison to the contemporary posters around at that time, the Guernica was original and unique, where as other images and designs were being reproduced, thus resulting in the examination between a "work of art" and a piece of graphic design.

Visual communication builds the social environment in which we live in and can affect how an individual's personality reacts. The social world can be made real through graphic means, but it is made aware by how a particular group or person perceives it. An advertisement can stir reactions far removed from the intended. For example a negative representation of the role of women in society.

World War 1 saw a distinct rise in the number of propaganda posters being produced. At this time T.v. and radio broadcasts has not been introduced and cinema was still new, lithographic posters were a mature and established form of graphic communication, and were used to great effect.


YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU', Alfred Leete was an intensive image used to recruit british people. Until 1914 joining the army had only been an option for the minority. The composition of this poster encapsulates the viewer with the sure intensity of his eyes and his pointing finger, which combined, creates a bond between the individual and country.


‘DADDY, WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE GREAT WAR?' was a poster that used an emotional or ethical reprove. There are many hidden messages within this image, that may have reached the viewer subconsciously. The father looks at the male viewer forcing him to depict himself as that man, hence adding social pressure to volunteer, and the young boy playing with toy soldiers emphasises this message. The overall image alerts the families of that era, where persuasion was their responsibility (as depicted in the poster).

The duty of men was reiterated with images which featured women with children beseeching men to fight. Femininity was depicted as defenceless and masculinity as action and to protect. Demands of war challenged the role of women to involve...
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