“They go and they fight and they’re victorious, and when all is said and done, they return home,” Zuberi said. “And it’s ‘Go back to your second-class citizen status, democracy is not here for you, you are not civilized and you are not ready for it.”
Conversely, the collection also includes negative posters that used hateful stereotypes to portray Africans and African-Americans as threats to white society. Zuberi’s favorite piece, perhaps surprisingly, is one of the most offensive in his collection.
Made in 1942 by Italian illustrator Gino Boccasile, “The Two-Dollar Venus” features a caricature of a black U.S. soldier as a brutish character with a buffoonish grin, his arm around the statue of Venus de Milo with “$2” scrawled across the torso.
“It’s beautiful in itself. It has a very ugly, derogatory tone, but it’s done very well,” Zuberi said. “This is saying to the Italian people: ‘If the U.S. comes here, they’re going to bring these people; they’re going to take a priceless cultural icon and put a price on it.'”
The exhibit also includes highly stylized posters made in China during the U.S. civil rights era and in Russia during the African independence movements expressing support of oppressed blacks against American and European aggressors.
A group of archival videos demonstrate how the same kinds of messages were communicated on film, including a 1945 Ronald Reagan-narrated recruitment short using the Tuskegee Airmen to claim American racial harmony and a 1944 Frank Capra-produced short that extols black war heroes without making mention of the entrenched segregation in the U.S. and its military.
A 1939 film shows Africans under European colonial rule as wholly benevolent relationships that brought the indigenous peoples “a fuller life, free from fear.”
“It’s a contradictory message given the reality that existed,” Zuberi said, “but it’s a very powerful message.”
Exhibit details: http://bit.ly/19uYHuM