"The Materialisation of Persuasion": Modernist Exhibitions in Britain for Propaganda and Resistance, 1933 to 1953

Project Details


"The Materialisation of Persuasion" will explore the use of exhibitions for propaganda, contestation and resistance in Britain, from 1933 to 1953. Taking its title from a phrase used by designer Misha Black in 1950 to describe such sites, the project will examine exhibitions mounted in a variety of locations, from factory canteens, bombsites and railway stations to galleries during these two decades.

The exhibitions that are central to this project were intended to influence or persuade, with ideas, not objects, as the central focus. Pivotal to this project is a vision, which the designers shared, of such exhibitions as active and participative 'demonstrations', as acts of provocation, rather than as 'displays' seen by a passive audience, primarily acting as platforms for displaying the fruits of commerce, trade, industry or the arts. This vision was initially inspired by exhibitions held in Russia and Germany and informed the visual language of the early British welfare state.

This research will analyse exhibitions as tools for communicating public information for everyday life, for inspiring hope in the future, and for raising awareness of issues of social or political importance. It will assert such exhibitions - described here as "propaganda" or "information exhibitions" - as a significant, but overlooked and often unknown, element in British Modernism. It will show that the networks developed through such exhibitions, often by émigrés to Britain fleeing the Nazis, were important catalysts in the professionalisation of British design practice during and after World War Two.
Effective start/end date1/02/1931/01/23


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council


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