Communists have invaded the Ogniwo Polish Museum in Winnipeg’s North End.
Well, not really, but until Dec. 18, the museum, located at 1417 Main St., will be occupied by Polish Posters: Hidden Messages as Means of Communication, a collection of stunning poster art from Poland’s communist era.
The exhibit, a mix of the museum’s collection and loans from private collectors, gives visitors a glimpse into the highly-regarded and sought-after art form that rose in prominence from the 1960s to the early 2000s.
"Traditional forms of fine arts were controlled. Unless you made art that spread the ideals of communism, you couldn’t make art," said museum president Christine Tabbernor, who lives in Riverview.
From the colourful Cyrk posters to the surrealist posters depicting Polish folklore to the realism seen in more modern works, the government-funded posters were often commissioned for operas, literature and film screenings.
For many artists living under Poland’s repressive Communist regime from the Second World War to 1989, the posters were a way to remain creative while trying to slip messages past government censors, Tabbernor said.
Tabbernor hopes the vibrant visual style of the posters help visitors understand Polish culture.
"We were looking at something that spoke to our current population in Winnipeg. So many families immigrated in the ‘80s and ‘90s, escaping very difficult conditions," she said.
"These posters and the symbolism and the art form is what they grew up with and coloured who they are today and how they look at things. Hopefully it gives people a wider view of another part of the world and how we interpret things and how that informs how we react to other things.
"I think it really speaks to all generations," she said.
West Kildonan resident Dorothy Paryzek spent two years researching the exhibit.
The symbolism may not be apparent at first, she admits, but portions of the exhibit, including a comparison of Hollywood film posters and their Polish counterparts, help with the interpretation.
For example, the poster for the 1972 Liza Minnelli-led musical Cabaret, takes on a particularly macabre translation, with a singing face imposed on two sets of legs spread out in the form of a swastika.
"Some of the imagery is classic and easily read, but obviously there’s some symbolism in there that might not be overly apparent to people who grew up in North America," she said.
"If you study some of the history of Poland, that symbolism suddenly takes on a very apparent meaning."
Paryzek was attracted to the art because of the vivid use of colour, and a cheekiness that produces different reactions and emotions between viewers.
"I think they have a timeless quality to them," she said.
The museum is open Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.
Admission is free.
For more information, visit www.polishmuseum.com.