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Across the curator’s desk - Sedition: A political poster dilemma

Sedition posters

What are these items? 
This is a small selection of the many striking political posters from the 1960s, 70s and 80s to be found among more than 10,000 Australian posters in the collections of the Mitchell Library at the State Library of NSW.

The 1960s, 70s and 80s were decades of social activism in Australia. Politics came to life on the streets during public demonstrations and posters became powerful protest tools as people looked for ways to express alternate views to those of the mainstream media and agitate for change.

Why are these important?
Sydney had a thriving poster-making scene from the late 1960s. Community arts activism surfaced as people banded together to campaign about social concerns of the day: the Vietnam War, Aboriginal land rights, the women’s movement, gay and lesbian rights, public health, education and the environment.

Political posters are designed to stimulate discussion, but they have a limited life span on the street. As soon as they enter public space they are at risk of being ripped down or papered over. They have value to viewers only for as long as their information remains relevant. Many have been discarded and are now lost. The State Library collects political posters created in NSW, as they provide unique insights into the extraordinary visual culture of social activism.

Why are these items on your desk?
One of the hardest tasks for any curator planning an exhibition – large or small – is deciding what will go on show and what will not. These posters (and about twice as many more) have been on my ‘virtual’ desk for some months now. They represent the 30 or 40 examples of Sydney political poster art that have not made the final cut for Sedition: The Art of Agitation, which will go on display in the AMAZE Gallery from 31 August to 1 December 2019, as part of 2019 History Week and Sedition 2019  - a festival of art music and pictures.

How did they get here?
Posters often come into the Library as government publications and as part of corporate records or personal papers.  WE have also acquired examples directly from the poster makers. The Sydney University Art Workshop, known as the Tin Sheds, provided art and printing facilities to the local community from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s and was one of the most influential sources of Sydney street art during these decades. Many arts workers passed through the Tin Sheds in the 1980s before moving on to other poster collectives, like the Garage Graphix Community Arts Group which operated in Mt Druitt from 1980 to 1996. The Library made significant political poster purchases from these producers in the 1980s and 90s and has been actively adding to its holdings of NSW poster art ever since.

Margot Riley
Curator, Research and Discovery