Read the entire thesis here
View the poster under discussion here
In 1980 the Palestinian refugee artist Abdul Hay Musallam created a Palestinian South African solidarity sculpture that was featured in a poster entitled, “Support the Mass Struggle Against Apartheid in South Africa.”
The International Artists Group (IAG) poster publication is important for being one of the earliest known representations of Palestinian/anti-apartheid solidarity. The poster was created at least two full decades after anti-apartheid activism had already assumed global dimensions as a mass movement. As will be argued in this paper, by the early 1950s even the nascent state of Israel had already started creating its own representations of apartheid, effectively making apartheid the subject of books and plays suitable for domestic mass-consumption, and marketing anti-apartheid activism as a central vehicle for its foreign relations.
By the turn of the 1960s, following the Sharpeville Massacre near Johannesburg, when state brutality against Black South Africans was broadcast to the world, anti-apartheid activism generated unprecedented levels of international awareness, leading to a series of UN condemnations and resolutions. Apartheid “opened a window on the paradoxes of the so-called ‘modern’ world—and highlighted how concepts of nationalism, development, justice, and self-determination [could take] on new meanings” (Irwin 2010: 323).
By 1980, apartheid had, for many groups, become a lens through which knowledge-power could be theorized. Musallam’s own artwork was generally influenced by symbolism (Look 2015). In the present instance, the anti-apartheid poster’s representation of an emblematic “Africanness” uncomfortably recalls colonial motifs, with the barefoot, pre-modern Africans as guerilla fighters wielding modern military weapons, but flanked by tribal huts and rural motifs.
The English caption appears as if in a schoolchild’s script, in an uneven cursive that seems inexperienced and insecure, or “primitive,” with a (mis)corrected error in the cursive “f” in the centrally framed word, “Africa.” This expression of childishness, incompetence or carelessness is remarkable in the body of Palestinian posters, which were, as a rule, highly invested in both graphic and technical sophistication. Researcher Dan Walsh, whose Palestine Poster Project Archives has an original print of the poster, has proffered the explanation that “spelling mistakes were common in revolutionary posters.” There is dubious evidence to support this explanation, especially as, jarring against the labored writing, the actual spelling of the difficult word “apartheid” is without error. In all, for whatever reasons, the message that the poster conveys winds up being as much about South African-Palestinian solidarity as it is about its opposite: disruption, fissure, uncertainty and distance – as well as stereotype.
Given that I am quoted in this thesis I feel obligated to respond. I find it risible that the analysis of this visual product, a political poster, opens with a critique not of the graphic its semiotic content or its messaging but rather the style and execution of its text and font. Firstly, the handwritten script is in no way "in a schoolchild’s script, in an uneven cursive that seems inexperienced and insecure, or “primitive,”. The author does not provide any parallel examples to buttress this claim so I must conclude either that he does not have any or is not willing to subject his evaluation to a comparative analysis. I have provided several examples of similarly scripted posters with the intention of debunking the author's evaluation empirically. As for the claim that an error is in evidence - relating to the overwriting of the letter "f" in the word "Africa" I am in complete disagreement with the author's conclusion. For starters, that overriding may or may not have even been the work of the artist, Muallam. It might have been something that the layout technician did during pre-press operations. Or it may have been the printer who, upon seeing the first rushes pulled from the press for inspection realized that his/her presses were not registering correctly and had the press team do what is called a "make ready" correction. This possibility is reinforced by the fact that the weight and style of the correction in no way match Muallam's font/script/style.