Visual Propaganda from the Spanish Civil War
Fighting Fascism: Visual Culture of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) examines the use of posters, postcards, advertisements, and other visual materials to influence public opinion and rally support for the war, which preceded World War II.
Co-curated by Miriam M. Basilio (GSAS ’91, IFA ’95, ’02), an associate professor of art history and museum studies who received her PhD in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts, the exhibition pulls from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, part of NYU’s renowned collection of the radical political left within the Special Collections’ Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Created in 1975 by veterans of the brigade, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives preserve the stories of the US volunteers who served as soldiers and humanitarian aid workers in a brigade named in honor of the president who led the American Civil War.
Spain became a Republic in 1931, and in 1936, the Popular Front coalition was elected on promises of agrarian reform, improved education, women’s suffrage, and the separation of church and state. Landowners, the Catholic church, aristocrats, and monarchists supported the military insurrection to overthrow the democratically elected government. While the majority of Americans remained isolationist, several thousand volunteers traveled to Spain to support its democracy.
Government officials, political groups, trade unions, and humanitarian organizations recognized the power of images to strengthen morale, educate, and solicit international support during the conflict, explains Basilio, who scoured the archives with her co-curators for the exhibition. Visual materials tied to American volunteers highlight their personal stories while also examining the power of propaganda and the importance of visual literacy, both of which are relevant today.
“The materials are emotional—meant to convince citizens, many of whom were illiterate, of their cause,” Basilio says. “The images were designed in a dramatically appealing or frightening way.”
On view through September 15, the exhibition includes personal materials, such as drawings, postcards and photographs, that detail the experiences of those on the front lines. It also explores civilian life, the effects of the war on children, and the role of women in the fight. “There are so many inspiring stories—and heartbreaking stories—in the archives,” says Basilio.
The exhibition grew from a 2019 course that Basilio taught with Assistant University Archivist Danielle Nista, who is one of the exhibition’s curators. That course drew from Basilio’s 2014 book, Visual Propaganda, Exhibitions, and the Spanish Civil War (Routledge), and the students also served as curators of the show, which was delayed because of the pandemic. Basilio says the visual materials, although more than 90 years old, resonated with students, who found parallels to today’s political and media landscape: “The class was in 2019 and we were looking at the election, thinking about social media and memes, and the fact that President Trump had gained fame in a reality TV show. It was the mass media that made him recognizable.”
View talk led by Miriam Basilio Gaztambide, Associate Professor of Art History and Museum Studies and co-curator of the exhibition
NYU Kimmel Windows | Art in Public Places
Kimmel Windows (founded in 2003) is located on LaGuardia Place and West 3rd Street just one block south of iconic Washington Square Park. The Windows exist as a unique cultural destination at the heart of New York University in historic Greenwich Village, providing space for exemplary public exhibits. These 13 ground floor vitrines offer 3 dynamic exhibitions a year. The Windows operate under the umbrella the Provost’s office, at the heart of NYU’s Art in Public Places initiative which facilitates the display of art in outdoor spaces around campus. We offer professionally curated, thoughtful, and engaging exhibitions organized by NYU graduate students, faculty, departments, and programs, resulting in a program that represents the wide range of scholarly discourse at New York University.
Exhibition on view now, through September 25, 2023. Free and open to the public in Kimmel Windows Gallery, along Laguardia & West 3rd Street.
For additional information or materials, contact:
Pamela Jean Tinnen, 347 634 2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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