Eladio Rivadulla was a prolific Cuban designer whose work helped transform the nation’s political and cultural landscape in the 1950s and 1960s. Though his career began by designing film posters, his work found a new trajectory when Fidel Castro emerged; upon receiving the news that Castro’s revolution proved successful, Rivadulla created the country’s first revolutionary poster. As the country’s cultural, social, economic, and ideological priorities shifted, Rivadulla’s posters became vital tools to communicate with the public and establish a new mode of being. In all, his work launched what is now considered to be a vital period of Cuban development, creative output, and a self-developed national narrative.
In the early hours of January 1, 1959, the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista fled to the Dominican Republic as Fidel Castro’s rebel army took power of Cuba. Eladio Rivadulla responded to the news quickly: he retrieved a 1957 archival photograph of Castro from the New York Times and used it as his reference for this maquette. This same photograph was featured on the first page of Havana’s newspaper, El Mundo, on this day. His maquette would then become the first poster of Cuba’s new revolutionary chapter (see following lot). But Rivadulla never exhibited this original drawing—and, in fact, nobody even knew that it existed until Rivadulla’s children recently discovered the work bound in a scroll at their father’s home.
“On learning that the dictator Fulgencio Batista had fled, the distinguished graphic designer Eladio Rivadulla Martínez printed in red and black what is considered to be the first political poster of the Cuban Revolution. … From then on, history began to be told in a different way, for everything had changed. [Rivadulla’s] poster marked the start of the development of a genre that consciously adjusted to the changing times. There was an urgent need for advertising to make known the social, economic, ideological and cultural program being put together in these new circumstances, and posters were the answer, to illustrate the fact that the country was reorganizing” (Cuba, p. 286). Though Castro’s revolution succeeded on January 1, 1959, his efforts began on July 26, 1953, and he named his party after this first endeavor: The 26th of July Movement. Today, July 26 is still celebrated in Cuba as the “Day of the National Rebellion.”
“Surcos de Libertad” (“Furrows of Liberty”) was a feature film directed by Manuel de la Pedrosa which used fictional scenes starring actors who were acquaintances of Castro. Rivadulla illustrates a passionately yelling Castro—”The Man of Action—In Action!” alongside various scenes of Cubans freed from oppression.
“Emulating, We Will Win” is a key example of Rivadulla’s contributions to developing Cuba’s new identity and communicating the party’s goals with the public at large. As socialism was disseminated, posters like these helped emphasize ideas about team-based work and united efforts for the common good. Insect colonies, like the ants depicted here, became a common motif in Rivadulla’s posters—a visual testament to the importance of teamwork. “This art form was part of the Revolution’s dynamics and drama, conveying its messages and hopes. Posters forged its visual code, while interpreting foreign styles and appropriating them just as decisively as the appropriation carried out socially by the Revolution, which also entailed adjustment, transformation and change” (Cuba, p. 286).
Rivadulla created this as the first graphic poster to commemorate the disappearance and death of Commander Camillo Cienfuegos, the founder of the Rebel Army and one of the leaders of the Cuban Revolutionary process. Cienfuegos was second in command after Castro, and disappeared after a plane crash in October, 1959—no traces of his body were found. On October 28, 1960, the celebration “Floras para Camilo” was established in Cuba; attendees throw flowers into the sea in memoriam. Today, the event occurs annually in all coastal areas of the island. This poster includes an attached hand-signed overlay sheet.
This winsome design was part of the first socialist campaigns that strengthened the message of having a clean city. The symbolism of the cat and his self-cleaning ritual was a direct and clear message to the people—and an easily digestible directive to quick passersby.
With an incredible display of strength, Rivadulla announces the second annual National Baseball Series, which got its start with the Cuban Revolution. The event took place in Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba, which was also where Castro proclaimed his victory. While the games started with only four participating teams, today’s competitions feature 16 teams.
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In-gallery viewing October 11 to 26 (daily 11am-6pm)