Our Struggle is Your Struggle: International Solidarity Posters
Don't censor social justice art

Poster House
119 W. 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011
February 28, 2024

Dear Board Members and staff of Poster House:

I’m writing to express my deep dissatisfaction and concern regarding Poster House’s decision to cancel the “Our Struggle is Your Struggle: International Solidarity Posters” exhibition of posters produced in Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s by OSPAAAL and others from the International Union of Students. Canceling this show disrespects the artists and their beliefs, and sends a chilling message about Poster House’s commitment to free expression and social justice art.

I first began working on Poster House exhibitions in early September of 2023 as a reviewer for the “No Escape: The Legacy of Attica Lives!” exhibition. Chief Curator & Director of Content Angelina Lippert then hired me to serve as curator for a second exhibition on Cuba posters when a previous curator had withdrawn. The preselected posters— all of them from the Poster House collection—were well within my subject expertise. (I have published one book and written numerous articles and presentations on Cuban posters.) I was pleased to help Poster House by developing an exhibition explaining what makes these posters special and honoring the artists and subjects they broadcast.

My content was rigorously reviewed, first by Poster House staff and then by external reviewers. In early November, I Zoom-presented the exhibition content and messaging to Poster House board and staff, received no negative comments, and things seemed fine. Later, in mid-December, I began receiving comments from external reviewer Edel Rodriguez to which I responded. Through Google Docs we addressed a wide range of subjects and, I thought, resolved the issues. I revised, clarified, and refined the message of this exhibition and was looking forward to seeing it displayed. Yet despite doing everything I was asked the exhibition was cancelled (technically, “postponed” for two years) just weeks before it was to be mounted.

Why withdraw an exhibition in which so much had been invested, and which could serve as a powerful counterpart to the Attica exhibition? Though not its primary subject area, Poster House does occasionally delve into political themes— Attica being a good example —but this exhibition went in a direction that Poster House found uncomfortable. Initially I was not given a reason beyond the vague assertion it was not “neutral” enough, nor was I offered an opportunity to address whatever concerns remain. Finally, on February 26 I spoke with Ms. Crosswhite and I learned more details. The objections raised by Mr. Rodriguez and the inclusion of a 1978 poster about Palestine played their roles, but apparently the more fundamental objection was a perceived lack of “neutrality.”  While it seems likely that my curatorial interpretation played a role here, also mentioned was the political content of the posters themselves. Is it possible to present a “neutral” exhibition of art that was specifically made to convey a viewpoint on geopolitical issues of the day?  Perhaps not, but I tried to produce balanced and accessible text that did justice to the passions and beliefs of the artists themselves.

I submit that canceling this exhibition on political grounds damages Poster House’s reputation and credibility within the broad poster community, including among artists and scholars, several of whom are featured in this exhibition (I list several of these individuals below). As Poster House decides how to move forward, Rebecca Carlsson’s 2023 article “Can Museums Be Neutral or Should They Take a Stance?” may be helpful.

These posters, and their messages, as not as dangerous as you fear. Coincidentally, this year I loaned large sets of OSPAAAL posters for two major exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts (for the “Sarah Maldoror: Tricontinental Cinema” exhibition, February 3–April 28, 2024) and the Cranbrook Art Museum (for “A Modernist Regime: Cuban Mid-Century Design,” June 15 - September 22, 2024). Instead of being a bold leader in sharing and interpreting these works, Poster House will now be absent from the discussion.

I’d like to believe that Edel Rodriguez would agree. In a recent interview in Metal magazine, he was asked: “…some galleries have been forced out of fear to censor what they choose to exhibit. In a way, does this type of censorship alter what the collective understands as truth?” Rodriguez replied: “Yes, any kind of censorship distorts the truth. … Many times, institutions are just trying to avoid controversy, but that is where the conversations and change occur.”

This is a watershed decision for Poster House.  Ms. Crosswhite told me that this exhibition has caused Poster House to examine some of its core values and principles. I look forward to seeing how you proceed.

Lincoln Cushing
Berkeley, California


Artists and scholars directly affected by canceling this exhibition:

  • Rafael Enríquez Vega (artist, Foreign Debt poster)
  • Jane Norling (artist, Day of World Solidarity with the Struggle of the People of Puerto Rico poster)
  • Emory Douglas and Spike Lee (Da Five Bloods poster shown as image used from Jose Lamas’ Jornada Continental de Apoyo a Viet Nam, Cambodia y Laos, 1969)
  • Angela Davis (featured in Libertad Para Angela Davis, 1971 by Félix Alberto Beltrán Concepción)
  • Malaquias Montoya, artist (pull quote supporting Cuban posters)
  • Jessica Stites Mor, Latin American scholar (pull quote supporting Cuban posters)
  • Carol Wells, director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, LA (special thanks credit)
  • Michael Lellouche, author, curator, and PH-invited exhibition text reviewer
  • Erik Martinez, collector (special thanks credit)

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