Political posters – critical, poignant and collectible – ESA member Wendi Bradshaw
A small, unexpected collection of political travel ephemera presented itself during a visit to Hong Kong, in late 2019.
What is the allure of travel? Visiting distant lands, experiencing different cultures, learning of turbulent histories, seeing amazing landmarks, appreciating simplicities and nuances of existence in contrast to our own. For the ephemera buffs amongst us is the added chance to collect unusual and unique artifacts that highlight our trip.
What began as a stop-over in Hong Kong, late 2019, ended up being an unforgettable experience of living briefly with the turmoil of social protest, amongst a people who overwhelmingly appeared
graceful, humble and friendly.
On first venturing into the city streets of Hong Kong we were astounded to see everywhere, posters, pasted bills and placards promoting anti-government sentiment, in fact defiantly advocating political activism. Both posters below were added to WB’s travel journal.
As has been well relayed internationally, every night certain streets that were relatively quiet through the day came alive with crowds, initially quiet and milling,
frequently progressing to loud and violent, clashing with police.
There was also some graffiti in the down-town areas, which is apparently very out of character with the usual clean and tidy shop front facades.
The protest posters were immediately attractive to me, revealing a naïve, honest and desperate kind of artistic expression. I began photographing them. Once, I tried to peel one off a subway
wall, with success; then, watched on by a few passing commuters, tried a few more. However, the quality of paper meant they tore into strips; and many were pasted over the top of others, creating
a multi-layered mesh of papers. The poster production appeared to be a compilation of streamlined simplicity, mass produced in great volume, with the haste of printing and pasting-up indicated
in the poor quality. Most were A4 size, some an amalgamation of different sizes. There was one amazing, large mural, a huge collage really, approximately 2 metres square, comprised of post-it
notes – some containing messages written in Chinese characters – from a distance the notes created the image of a gesticulating person. The artistry was amazing – it would have taken some perilous amount of time to contrive.
Later that day, I read in the China Daily that applying, as well as removing poster placards, was considered a crime punishable by imprisonment. My collection ended at five.
These posters were produced under duress by unknown persons making complaint against their perceived oppression. One of the most profound and dangerous expressions human beings can
make is concerned with freedom of speech, and in Hong Kong the consequences can be dire. Yet each poster image represents a desperation to be heard, a pleading for support in sharing their
voice, in requesting and demanding change. From a society well known for their politeness, we also witnessed apologies aimed at tourists, for the inconvenience; a sentiment that was relayed to
us personally, several times. Interestingly, whenever I had the opportunity I asked local persons what they thought of the protests, and posters – every person I spoke with quietly admitted they
were in support of the activities, and that the time to make this stand was now.
No permission has been sought or acquired for their reproduction here – such publication would endanger the lives of the activist producers, who try to remain invisible. This imagery is displayed
with consideration of the wider human rights issues expressed by artists and creators, recognizing the profound impact these expressions have had on Hong Kong society, in polarizing and dividing opinion for communities both local and abroad. As individuals they go about their business through the day; at night, many unite. Their fight continues.
Protesters display placards to stranded travelers during a demonstration at the airport on August 13 2019.
Both images from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2019/08/hong-kong-protesters-apologiseairport-chaos-190814151751512.html
The above are images are from a series of posters I didn’t t have the nerve to remove. A new awareness of the potential consequences of this unlawful activity made me reluctant to do more than take photographs.