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Dear Guru: What’s the meaning behind these Cuban propaganda art posters that were sent to Laos back in the day?

This week’s burning question comes in via several emails and comments received when we posted our winner of “Best Public Art Display” on Facebook. It featured artwork from Cuba…sent to Laos during the Vietnam War era.

What’s the meaning behind these Cuban propaganda art posters that were sent to Laos back in the day?

In the aftermath of World War II, the old world order upended and empires fragmented, giving birth to a new era of nationalism and self-determination among the former colonies. Two opposing ideological blocs arose, the First World capitalist NATO countries and the Second World communist Eastern Bloc, competing for global dominance during this Cold War era. Many of the newly independent Third World states (many former colonies of NATO countries) formed their own neutral Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which sought to maintain good relations with both sides (at least on the surface).

Overlapping the broader membership of the Non-Aligned Movement, were other factions working to sway members’ support on various issues, such as the African Union, the Arab League, the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization, and the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAAL). OSPAAAL was created in Cuba in 1 966 and promoted the causes of socialism, communism, national liberation (especially in Palestine and Puerto Rico), nuclear disarmament, and racial equality in the Third World.

From its foundation until the 1980s, OSPAAAL created striking propaganda posters promoting their causes and solidarity among member states. Unfortunately, due to the material and funding shortages, the production of these posters went on hiatus until the year 2000.

The poster of the soldier sniping from Buddha’s lap was created by Rafael Zarza Gonzalez, a Cuban painter and graphic designer, now in his 70s. Why was October 12th chosen as the Day of Solidarity with the People of Laos? This is Laos’ Independence Day from France, fitting into OSPAAAL’s anti-imperialist stance.

As an interesting side note, a famous OSPAAAL poster for Puerto Rico was actually designed by an American woman, Jane Norling, who still creates art from her studio in Oakland, CA.


Courtesy of Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

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