The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda


Above: All for the sake of peace; Nguyen Cong Do; Vietnam, 1972; Gouache on paper; by 1972 the tide had turned in the American-Vietnam war, this work shows tanks being transformed into tractors: military equipment converted for peaceful production © The Trustees of the British Museum

After GDP’s recent post about the propaganda exhibition at the British Library we wanted to draw your attention to the British Museum’s free offering of The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda. This is on until 1st September and consists of items from the museum’s own collection.

Propaganda itself is explored through the context of Asia since 1900 and like the British Library’s show, this exhibition reveals propaganda at work in times of war, helping to create unity and indeed strengthen ideologies. But it also shows how propaganda can help build or re-build nations and foster a collective spirit.

For example, the image below of the menacing helicopters of the Vietnam war, morbidly crow-like and threatening as they approach the prone children below, is enough to terrify anyone. Fear is the propagandist’s best weapon. Whereas the top image in this post is happily describing the conversion of war machinery into useful and productive agricultural equipment. Notice the difference in the styles of illustration to highlight the varied messages.


Above: Fleet of approaching helicopters, with two Vietnamese children in foreground, one of whom is lying on the ground and the other is viewed screaming within a weapon’s target scope; Sigmund Abeles, 1967; Sepia etching and aquatint © The Trustees of the British Museum


Above: Inscribed political poster painted on machine-made paper. A young Vietnamese woman holds a bolt-action rifle, pursues an American pilot. He is dwarfed by the heroine. Here the enemy is dehumanized and portrayed as a worried cartoon spaceman with a green face, bulging eyes and no hair; Vietnam, 1967 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Propaganda surrounds us all the time, sometimes more overtly than others. As a design tutor I think that design, art, media and history learners (amongst others) should see and reflect on as much evidence of this as they can – so if you are in London pop over to the British Museum. You’ll see propaganda going on in so many of their other exhibits too, such as statues, coins, temples and columns, textiles, even jewellery. Meanwhile, try looking around you this week and spot the effects of spin at work on your television, your mobile devices and your own possessions. Consider how and why this impacts on you personally – does it confirm your personal ideologies or does it trigger offence or defence from you?

See more about The Art of Influence here at the British Museum’s website.

All images courtesy of the British Museum press office.

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