Exhibition review: Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, British Library, London, until September 17th 2013
Greeted by a faceless, corridor of black, military-esque mannequins showing textual bites of information, the entrance to this exhibition generates an ominous atmosphere.
© Courtesy Anthony d'Offay, London
Flags bearing the merged faces of totalitarian despots and historical dictators are lit up above the dimmed ground level of the show, inferring that shadowed propaganda lurks round clandestine corners and shines from the highest points of power.
This showcase of the ways in which states attempt to sway the minds of their citizens features a powerful collection of items, along with some surprising links to contemporary visual culture; the overwhelming impact, for example, of the 2012 Olympics in London on national morale.
The show contains various video pieces in which experts speak about the striking impact of persuasive language and images on society, from the Roman era to the present day.
Well-known wartime slogans and icons such as Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam sit between compelling and fascinating lesser-known personifications of national identity.
Images of The White Haired Girl, of Mao’s infamous Communist propaganda regime, and photographs of Hitler’s youth outreach projects make quietly menacing though salient appearances.
The exhibition also focuses on the importance of figures, such as Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Jospeph Goebbels, and the career of individuals dedicated to influencing the mentality of the masses.
But not every aspect of the showcase peddles the sinister identity of the propagandist. This is, after all, an objective look at the world of political persuasion.
Some exhibits, such as a campaign sticker from the 1994 South African elections promoting Nelson Mandela as the "People's Choice" candidate, explicate the persuasive power of text and images in promoting positive social change.
A particularly interesting aspect of the show is the highlighted significance of television and radio - in addition to the printed image, text or comic strip - in swaying social and political influence.
Opening the viewer’s eyes to the world of persuasive symbols and signifiers, satire, falsehoods, faith and a history of attempted indoctrination, this showcase not only boasts a few surprises but is also self-reflective, illustrating how the power of a single word or image can rouse a nation.
- Open 9.30am-6pm (8pm Tuesday, 5pm Saturday, 11am-5pm Sunday and most public holidays.) Admission £9 (free for under-18s), book online. Follow the British Library on Twitter @britishlibrary. Use the hashtag #BLpropaganda.
© British Library Board
© Crown copyright
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