May ’68: Posters of the Revolution

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, Richard Nixon was elected president, the war in Vietnam intensified, and black Americans and anti-war activists were persecuted by the FBI. Anti-war demonstrators chanted, The whole world is watching, as police beat and teargassed them. On the other side of the Atlantic, a revolution brewed in Paris. “Be realistic! Demand the impossible!” was one of the slogans of the uprising that May. “No replastering, the structure is rotten!” and “Neither god nor master!” In the aftermath of the bloody Algerian war, and following increasingly fervent labor strikes, the students united with the factory workers. They formed barricades in the street, led massive strikes, and occupied the universities. The protests brought the city to a standstill, and for a brief month in spring, it seemed as if a more liberated, equitable reality was possible. But the goals of the revolution were vague: a desire to speak, to be free, to be united, to be young and alive. The new world order the revolutionaries vowed to never stop fighting for failed, and still fails, to materialize. Fifty years later, many French people question what exactly May ’68, for all its earnest hope and idealism, achieved. Some argue it has done little more than infuse politics with empty impractical rhetoric. Others argue it left a permanent positive spirit of freedom. One thing is easily agreed upon: the posters were beautiful. They carry a simple iconography—the raised fist of the revolutionary, the spiked silhouette of the factory, blocky silhouettes that strive to represent a universal figure. Most of these were created by a collective of radical artists based at the occupied art school dubbed the Atelier Populaire. (“Populaire,” used in this sense, translates roughly to “communal” or “classless.”) Whatever the legacy of that fevered month of May, these posters have a lasting power. —Nadja Spiegelman 

“The beauty is in the street.”

“Borders = repression.”

“Be young and shut up.”

“Workers. French. Immigrants. United.”

“Return to normalcy.”

“We are all ‘undesirables.’ ” (Pictured is Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a German French student leader known as “Dany le Rouge” for his red hair.)

“I participate. You participate. We participate. You all participate. They profit.

“Attention: the radio lies.”

“You are being intoxicated!”

“Free information.”

“The fight continues.”

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