Communist humour: no laughing matter?

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition


Images are cultural artifacts, and even photographs require cultural knowledge to understand what work they may do in the world. As with the atmosphere in a room, we can read the mood of a picture differently, approaching it from our own angles and subjective moods. A close reading helps to reveal how the picture participates in a larger culture without necessarily being the result of a coherent set of intentions. To explore the meaning of photographs is to recognise that they are created within the dynamics of social power and ideology, which may prompt us to think of propaganda.

Although the term propaganda originated in the sixteenth century and was once understood to mean mere persuasion, it was not widely used until the 20th century, when propaganda was not only associated with mass media, but also with totalitarian regimes and war efforts. Through this development, the contemporary usage of propaganda has a pejorative sense. After the Second World War, photographs were often used to convey news and construct an idealised society. For example, the myth that women in the Communist Bloc had been more emancipated than in the West had been an essential part of socialist propaganda. Having been “granted” equality, women in socialist countries were then engaged in male professions. However, while indeed a higher number of women had entered the male job market in the Socialist Bloc in comparison with women in the West, they were far from being treated as equal to men, since there still ruled a traditional understanding of gender roles, thereby placing women under the double obligation of work and taking care of their family and households.

The series of photographs displayed in this exhibition come from the photo archive of the Minerva Cultural Association in Cluj. Taken by different photojournalists between 1965 and 1973, they all include an element of propaganda, yet upon closer inspection they convey some humour, even irony. Irony can be seen as a context in which appearance and reality are in conflict. It also refers to situations of incongruity, in which outcomes are unexpected, sometimes humorously so. I therefore invite the viewer to look closely and reflect on what meaning is being inferred. Do the photographs make you laugh?

This exhibition was curated by Dr Uschi Klein, senior lecturer and researcher at University of Brighton, UK.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2023
EventCommunist humour: no laughing matter? - Gallery at Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Duration: 14 Mar 202330 Apr 2023


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