Earlier this week, it was another amazing edition of That Belongs in the Museum. It’s Chicago’s newest and coolest live literary event. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to go, I highly recommend it. The idea is that people give a 30 second to 5 minute talk about an object they have brought. The object can be something very meaningful to them personally or it can be noteworthy in itself. The first time I went, I presented on the bow tie belonging to my late grandfather. Last time, I talked about a cardboard book published by Eloisa Cartonera, a Buenos Aires based publishing house in protest against the high prices of books and the economic issues.
In this week’s event, the organizers asked people to mention the name of the museum (real or fake) that their item should be displayed in. Organizer Susan Golland presented “Basket of Homeless Socks” for the Museum of Lost Objects. Brilliant. Organizer Sarah Crawford, a museum exhibit designer, talked about how it would be displayed while organizer Serena Washington talked about it as a curator.
This time, I presented on a Cuban propaganda poster by Rafael Enrique Vega in 1984. It depicts a grinning woman carrying a machine gun. It has the words “El Salvador” at the top and says in Spanish, “We make war to conquer the peace.” The poster was one of over 300 posters printed by OSPAAAL, the Organization in Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. OSPAAAL produced posters supporting revolutions and other political happenings around the world. There are many posters supporting the Vietnam, and Angola. Some support political figures like Ho Chi Mihn and Nelson Mandela.
I found this poster and others like it to be really incredible documents of the past. I think propaganda has gotten a bad reputation. People associate it with bad or low art and pushing a political agenda. Well, yes, it does push a political agenda but so do paintings. Cuban posters were incredibly creative (to a point). Some are quite abstract; some are even psychedelic. And the messages really hit home with the use of few to no words. There is an amazing OSPAAAL poster of the map of Vietnam where a vulture with the head of Nixon is grasping at the heart of the country. Incredible imagery. I find these posters and other posters published by other publishing houses to be important and fascinating historical documents and artworks due to their vivid iconography and messaging. If you want to see a whole bunch of OSPAAAL posters, check this out (though I’d caution against buying. I don’t think the artists or their organizations see a dime of posters sold in the US).
My interest in particular was the role of women. Again, this particular poster for El Salvador was really notable because when we think of propaganda and women, we think of them as victims or maybe angels inspiring men to fight. There is Rosie the Riveter too. We don’t tend to think of women as the fighters in propaganda. Well, Cuban posters had many posters of women carrying arms. Now the imagery can be very bit complex (and many pages in my Master’s Thesis). But I think it is really an interesting image that is repeated in various posters.
So that’s my object. I forgot to mention where it should go. I’d love to see it in the Museum of Propaganda Arts here in Chicago (I wish!).
As always, there were many incredible objects that people brought in. The first item presented were Tragedy and Comedy mask doorknobs from the Evanston Theater. They are really unique and large for doorknobs; They are really more like door plates. The gentleman rescued them from the building before the Evanston Theater was torn down in 2007. What a treasure!
There is often these wonderful serendipitous moments at these events. First time a man talked about Gandharan art just before I went up to talk about my grandfather who happened to specialize in that particular art form. After the doorknobs talk, another person presented on objects saved from another lost Chicago site. Eric Bartholomew shared with us a college wooden box of artifacts found from the old Riverside Park, an amusement park in Chicago that closed in the late 1960s. Apparently, some boys went to the site as it was being torn down and rescued these items buried in the ground. The items are fairly impressive, glass vases and decanters, etc. Someone made it into a beautiful, bright collage.
Another item that struck me was an old hand crank siren shared by Paul Durica. My friend’s uncle in Ohio found it in the course of his job and offered it to Paul. The siren has been used in historical events here in Chicago.
What makes it fortuitous is that the siren was actually manufactured by the then named Federal Sign and Siren Corporation. The company was started here in the Chicago area in 1901 as the Federal Sign Corporation. It still exists today in Oak Brook under its old name. It produces sirens, lights, and more. The company even copyrighted the sound of this siren. The sound is the quintessential sounds of an old police car. The faster you crank it, the louder it gets.
There were so many pieces. You’ll have to check out the website when Episode 3 is done. It’s well checking out.
The next event of That Belongs in a Museum will be August 6th. See you there!