Paris: May 1968 Posters of the Student Revolt

In the turbulent days of May 1968 in Paris, a group of artists calling themselves the Atelier Populaire created posters that were vital in spreading the call to unite student and workers.  The propaganda of the French revolt was fed by immediate pressures.  The day by day events – the disruption of classes at Nanterre University led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the supporting student demonstrations in Paris, the police invasion of the Sorbonne and its occupation by students, the barricades, and the government’s reaction and referendum – these were the events that produced the newspaper stories and also these spontaneous, passionate comments in the poster medium.

The process of making posters was rapid and direct: “Graffiti sustained a relentless match of squash against the communique of the official radio and TV.  Slogans were picked off the walls and brought to limited printing facilities of l’Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, rebaptised Atelier Populaire by the students entrenched there.  Students and sympathetic workers encaptured by the spirit of community – experimented with participatory design, discussing and choosing together the poster subjects and images.  Anonymity was not only a consequence of this method of working but also an understandable necessity.

Arte Útil / Popular Workshop

The first posters were printed by whatever means were at hand.  As the movement became more organised and more people became involved, silkscreen workshops were established.  When need overcame production, the ateliers were joined by the workshops of the Faculties of Science and of Psychology, as well as by the Committees of Revolutionary Action operating in each neighbourhood, which resorted to every available printing medium. – blueprint and office duplicating machines included.  In solidarity, Paris international artistic community contributed posters which although more accomplished graphically, lacked the punch of the students’ simplicity.

Resorting to the folklore of popular idioms and visual images was the student’s way of achieving more directly the desired union of university and factory.  Nevertheless, it gradually became clear that Tomorrow had many forms of commitment to reality.  While the students had been proposing humanistic anarchism as natural man’s Garden, the majority of the workers had been demanding the Arcadia of the Levittowns.

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