Rene Wanner's Poster Page


book cover Posters in Action
Visuality in the Making of an African Nation

Edited by Giorgio Miescher, Lorena Rizzo and Jeremy Silvester, published by and available from Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Basel (CH) (2009) ; 256 pages, 30 x 21 cm, about 150 illustrations; softcover; in english; ISBN 978-3-905758-09-2; CHF 90.00 (about 83 US$, or 500 ZAR in South Africa)

A poster history of Namibia, from the 1930's to the present commercial posters, with a special emphasis of the posters of the indepence war, with many essays by specialists from Namibia and Switzerland, a rich and throrough docummentation, and a profound analysis of the role of posters.

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This book is a collaboration of the National Archives of Namibia, and the Basler Afrika Bibliographien in Switzerland, a privately run archive of Africa related material which includes a large, but relatively unknown collection of african posters. It's holdings have been the subject of an excellent previous publication (Miescher, Giorgio; Henrichsen, Dag (eds.): African posters).

The new publication is the result of a six year research project and goes into more detail about the role of posters in the history of Namibia, a sparsely populated country in Southwest Africa which obtained independence from South Africa in 1990 after a twenty year liberation struggle. Several workshops and exhibitions in Basel and Windhoek contributed to the project.

It is composed of about 20 articles, starting with printing techniques, continuing with tourism advertising, health and AIDS posters, political posters for (and against) the SWAPO, the political party and former underground movement that led the liberation struggle, and finishing with contemporary advertising posters, discussing for example "the mysterious demographics of beer drinking". The website of the publisher has the full table of content together together with 17 sample pages.

A special 40 page chapter is devoted to "The Photographic Poster Archive", i.e. photographic records kept as part of the poster collection, pointing out that "Photographs often constitute the sole material evidence we have of the existence of particular posters and related visuals such as placards, flyers and T-shirts." The book cover shows two examples of poster pictures in their context.

The diverse material from the different authors is smoothly joined without overlap by the steady hand of experienced editors, is clearly written and easy to read, and is supported by detailed image descriptions, notes, a 6 page bibliography and an index. In addition, the book is well designed.

1989, Students Vote, poster designed in Windhoek, printed in Cape Town

1977, Biko and Solidarity, poster probably designed by Ben Martins and Thami Mnyele

1988, Anon, Namibia Day 1988
Photo Jeremy Silvester
2008, Kaleb Shaaluken standing next to a Heidelberg offset printing machine at Namprint, Windhoek

1989, Early AIDS poster, issued by the Departement of National Health and Welfare, Windhoek

2003, Tafel Lager (Jackson Kaujeua playing Saxophone), issued by Namibia Breweries Ltd., designed by DV8 Saatchi & Saatchi
Photo Jeremy Silvester
2008, Backstage of the National Theater in Windhoek
Photo Ruth Dammann
1953, film advertising in Windhoek, original caption "Die deutschen Strassen in Windhoek. Kaiser und Bahnhofstrasse

What impressed me most about this book, and convinced me instantly of it's high value, are a number of statements and points of view of eye opening simplicity and strength:
  • "Posters are designed to act." A simple answer to a question I hear often from confused students. In my opinion also, the purpose of a poster is not "to change the planet", or "lead to greater awareness and cooperation in solving the problems of international development", or "explore the boundaries of readability" or "communicate to a global audience important socio-political messages". Posters are designed to act!

  • "Posters can only be documented and analysed if they have been collected."

  • "In contrast to most scholarly work on historical posters, we remain critical of the assumption that posters, as conceptual images, 'speak for themselves'.". To strip a poster from it's context is common practice in international poster competitions, and almost all poster exhibitions, and many poster books, but I always had uneasy feelings towards the common statement that a good poster explains itself. What a relief !

  • "The photographic archive is of great relevance when it comes to contextualising posters." Again, I have been practicing and preaching the necessity for photographic documentation of street posters, for example, or election posters, both on Posterpage and on Flickr, and I am happy that at least one poster museum shares and lives my opinion.
There are not many publications about african posters, and I appreciate that this book treats them not merely as an exotic curiosity but worthy of serious scientific investigation. It is not a collection of pretty pictures, but nevertheless one of the best poster books I have.

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