April 12, 2013, by Sarah Colborne
Windows on War – guest blog by Laura Todd
Among the archives of Manuscripts and Special Collections, is the University’s rare collection of Soviet war propaganda posters, dating from 1943-1945. The collection was a gift from one of the University’s Professors of English, Vivian de Sola Pinto (1895-1969). The collection of posters is the largest in the UK and covers an array of different styles and themes. In 2008-2009, the University held an exhibition of these posters, titled Windows on War, in the Weston Gallery within Lakeside Arts Centre.
The success of the exhibition demonstrated that war posters and Soviet and Russian history held a lot of interest for the public. The posters are more than mere propaganda. The artists and poets who contributed to the making of them were familiar figures on the Soviet cultural scene, including the trio of satirical cartoonists “The Kukryniksy” and the children’s writer Samiul Marshak. Eye-catching as they are, the posters also contain subtle visual and written references relating to Russian history, culture and religion. The contributions of these artists and writers to the making of the posters underlines the importance that these items had for maintaining the momentum of the war effort in the Soviet Union; it was an all-consuming task. Moreover, the posters themselves are pure works of art, reflecting the level of skill of the artists and their ability to produce such art under huge amounts of pressure, with limited resources.
The exhibition also underlined the fragility of these items. They were always intended to be ephemeral and this has become increasingly apparent over the years. The paper is low-quality and many of the posters are separate pieces of paper stuck together; due to the intense pressure on the printers, they would have to gather materials from wherever possible and make use of every last scrap. Although time has damaged the posters, time has also provided us with new technology which ensures that the collections can still be seen and enjoyed by the public. Following the digitisation of several of the posters for the Windows on War exhibition, Manuscripts and Special Collections has now digitised further posters for a new online exhibition to enable wider access to the collection. The high-quality images show the tiniest details, including brush strokes, the damage caused by time, and even mistakes made by the printers of the posters.
This online exhibition, also titled Windows on War, has brought together people from across a range of different disciplines at the University, including staff from Manuscripts and Special Collections, IT Services and the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies. While the creation of the digital resource has proved to be a challenging process, it has also illustrated how important these items are as historical and cultural artefacts. The online exhibition can be used as a resource by students or by members of the public who simply have an interest in these wonderful items. Either way, it ensures that the posters will be seen for many years to come.
This guest post was written by Laura Todd, Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies. Post-graduate researcher on the project.