From the mid-‘50s to ’70s, the poster was a crucial form of communication in North Vietnam. In the midst of a brutal war, artists were responsible for disseminating messages to the vast rural population. They also depicted optimistic scenes to boost morale and raise popular support. To work urgently and economically, artists often hand-painted—rather than printing—their images. These unique works from the collection of Deborah Salter offer a distinct perspective, and they are all seen here for the first time.
29 1/4 x 25 1/2 in./74.4 x 65 cm
“This naive poster contains a narrative which celebrates the liberation of Hanoi following the defeat of the French colonizers after the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The future of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam appeared optimistic and cause for celebration. The soldiers are depicted wearing the uniform of the Viet Minh army and portrayed as protectors and victors. They affectionately embrace the children and revere the older generation. The woman wears the traditional Ao Dai, a national costume and symbol of Vietnamese nationalist pride (introduced to Vietnam in the 1930s). The flag proudly displayed at the door of the women’s home is the flag of North Vietnam, an emotionally charged sign of the State (designed in 1940) and used by the Viet Minh during the uprising against the French. Ho Chi Minh adopted this flag in 1945 to represent the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which subsequently became the government of North Vietnam in 1954. The red background of the flag symbolizes revolution and blood, while the points of the star represents the five classes in Vietnam society at the time: intellectuals, farmers, workers, businessmen, and militaries” (Deborah Salter).
29 3/4 x 41 1/8 in./75.5 x 104.5 cm
“This cheerful, decorative poster aimed to promote food production and emphasize sound farming practice. The scene is positive and plentiful, showing an ethnic minority woman feeding her fat, healthy animals. The message for the peasant farmer is optimistic, promoting a productive and positive outlook through better care and animal husbandry. The pot-bellied pig is a specific breed found mainly in North Vietnam. The slogan may have been deliberately removed from the base of the poster and the image used for decoration after the political purpose had been fulfilled. However, while socialist realist art was the official sanctioned art form and art for art’s sake did not exist for public show, some artists painted decorative themes quietly for private consumption” (Deborah Salter).
29 1/4 x 42 7/8 in./74.2 x 109 cm
“The first Five Year Plan [from] 1961-1965 set the government on an ambitious reconstruction agenda… after the French defeat in 1954. Gripped by a severe food shortage, the North Vietnamese government campaigned to increase food and industry by emphasizing the importance of peasants and workers. The posters… [promoted] efficient agricultural practices and increased industrial production. Images of abundance and productive agriculture were common… Through the depiction of fertility and abundance, it was hoped that peasant farmers would be inspired to work harder and increase production making the country happy and prosperous. The government set highly unrealistic goals for food production and introduced a ruthless land reform program commencing in 1955. The harsh reality for the peasants and workers during this period was quite different from the positive images reflected in propaganda posters” (Deborah Salter).
23 x 33 3/8 in./58.5 x 84.8 cm
“This poster is influenced by elements of Soviet propaganda design. It shows a strong, dominant figure leading his followers into the patriotic act of volunteering for the war effort. The young soldier at the front of the picture plane has his sights fixed on glory as he strides out proudly holding his enlistment paper with a determined and resolute expression. The purpose of this poster was to engender patriotism and a community expectation that the younger generation would make sacrifices for an independent and unified nation and enlist into the armed forces. In reality, many young men and women did not enlist voluntarily into the People’s Army of Vietnam. The army comprised mainly of ‘conscripts’ who were often ‘recruited’ from their rural villages and rice fields with force. They received four months of basic training before they had their intensive training in specialist areas. North Vietnamese soldiers were known for being tightly knit and an intensely cohesive force. They were strongly indoctrinated with Party dogma and developed steely determination. At the time of unification in 1975, the Vietnam People’s Army numbered one million troops” (Deborah Salter).
38 1/8 x 28 in./96.8 x 71 cm
During the conflict period, Vietnam was isolated from the rest of the world—their only contact was with nearby communist countries, including China and Russia, whose aesthetics were largely influential to Vietnamese artists. This design clearly takes heed to the Russian style with swaths of bold red, high contrast, and sharply delineated forms. In the foreground, a citizen enforces his strength and determination; to the left, the profile of Ho Chi Minh denotes his position of influence and protection over the people; to the right, male and female soldiers execute their duty to protect the country. Paper supplies were low at this time, so artists had to make the most of their materials—and powerful images like this one were exhibited frequently; the pin holes used at each location ultimately testify to the work’s visibility. Clearly, this work has been through a lot, but its damages make it all the more vital.
29 1/8 x 38 1/2 in./74 x 98 cm
A united front was essential to Vietnamese success, and this design emphasizes solidarity with its men from the army, the air force, and the navy; behind them, two soldiers wave the North Vietnamese flag as encouragement. The style is typical of propaganda posters at the time, which were largely influenced by Chinese aesthetics: bright, primary colors that reverberate across a flattened scene.
27 5/8 x 38 1/8 in./70.3 x 97 cm
“The iconic Thanh Hoa Bridge spanning the Song Ma river… was originally built by the French during the colonial era. In 1945 the Viet Minh sabotaged the bridge in their struggle to defeat the French and after victory was realized, the North Vietnamese commenced rebuilding it in 1957. The bridge… was a vital link between different regions of North Vietnam [and] a strategic passage for supplies and reinforcements being sent to the Viet Cong during the war. In 1965, the Americans commenced bombing the bridge nicknamed the Ham Rong Bridge (Dragon’s Jaw). Despite many attempts to destroy the bridge, success only came in 1972 when a laser-guided bomb finally struck and partially destroyed it [as seen here]. A young woman dominates the picture with authority, showing the determination of the people to overcome the trials and setbacks of war. In one hand she holds a kerosene lamp to guide the army trucks across the floating pontoon and in the other she holds her rifle. The pontoon across the Song Ma River was very narrow and required precise driving and very careful navigation. It was the job of young women to guide the vehicles at night with their lamps. The women were also encouraged to keep the skin on their arms as white as possible to assist with illuminating the margins of the pontoon and ensure safe passage. Vietnamese women were frequently depicted in propaganda posters with long hair to show their youth and deliver the image that young and old were needed to win the war” (Deborah Salter).
29 1/2 x 34 1/8 in./75 x 84.4 cm
“This bold commemorative poster celebrates the fall of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) on 30 April 1975. Dominating the foreground, a victorious South Vietnamese female soldier proudly shows her FNL [National Liberation Front] armband and wears the checked scarf which identifies her as a southern guerrilla fighter. In the background stands the iconic market of Ben Thanh which gained notoriety during the launch of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and became the symbolic landmark of Saigon” (Vietnam, 47).
21 x 28 3/4 in./53.5 x 73 cm
“International Children’s Day is recognized and celebrated in many places around the world to honour children globally. It was first proclaimed by the World Conference for the Well-Being of Children in 1925 in Geneva, Switzerland and has been celebrated universally since that date. This poster celebrates Vietnam’s actions to promote the bond between parents and children and their connectedness. The celebration also highlights the importance of child welfare and protection. The colors and design reflect a strong Chinese influence with the use of vivid primary colors and happy faces. Ribbons, balloons, and flowers are suggestive of a big celebration with red being a constant color for communist celebratory posters” (Deborah Salter). The full text here reads: Celebrate the 1st of June; the future belongs to our children.