“City of Lights, City of Fonts” is a blog and visual diary created by ArtSlant’s Georgia Fee Artist-in-Residence, Ali Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will explore France’s evolving visual relationship to propaganda, looking deeply at aesthetics of nationalism and politicized otherness. With sketches, writing, and graphic vignettes, she will document fonts, signage, and France's history of drawing as activism.
Every revolution has an aesthetic. Some of the most influential resistance visuals come from the uprisings of May 1968 in Paris. That month there were strikes and protests, with half a million people marching through the streets chanting: “Adieu, de Gaulle!” (“Farewell, de Gaulle!”).
New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger wrote of the time:
The movement began with student protests against archaic university rules and quickly radiated out to factories and other workplaces rife with political discontent.
Eleven million workers went on strike for two weeks and a student group called the Atelier Populaire occupied the École des Beaux-Arts, screen printing posters.
Many had catchy slogans evoking sexual freedoms like: “It is forbidden to forbid” and “Live without limits and enjoy without restraint!”
The student protestors created a workshop in the university, manufacturing simple and symbolic posters. There were no individual artists; instead the atelier circulated them anonymously, with no one person claiming authorship (or shouldering blame).
They printed posters upon request and taught serigraphy to people from the provinces and smaller French towns. Their graphics were simple, powerful, and effective. The Atelier Populaire declared their posters “weapons in the service of the struggle… an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories.”
The Atelier Populaire was also aligned with the Situationist movement, helmed by Guy Debord, which was invested in merging poetry and graphics as a visual propaganda strategy.
Below is my rendering of their poster “No to Bureaucracy”:
Their particular aesthetic resonated across the world, influencing Berkeley’s 1970 anti-war posters, among others.
And that’s the slightly hopeful note I’d like to leave on. One in which empowered visuals can educate, bind communities, and contribute to worthwhile struggles. Not all propaganda is “bad,” but we need to become visually literate in order to discern what we’re consuming. Because we consume a lot.