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Decker, Christof (2019): Fighting for a Free World: Ben Shahn and the Art of the War Poster. In: American Art, Vol. 33, No. 2: pp. 84-105

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During the Second World War, the Graphics Division of the Office of War Information played a crucial role in the development of visual propaganda in American culture. Revisiting this period and in particular the poster art of Ben Shahn, this article explores his work in the larger context of searching for a democratic propaganda vis-à-vis totalitarian regimes in Europe and Asia. Shahn included references to mass media, repurposed photographs, and explored depictions of violence, for example, in a series called The Nature of the Enemy. His work at the Graphics Division, produced in close collaboration with other artists, thus reflected on the challenges of finding appropriate new forms of pictorialism for the horrific narratives of atrocities coming out of Europe. I argue that it introduced modernist elements of reflexivity that made his posters sophisticated, but also challenging and controversial. Ultimately, I contend that these war posters reflect a struggle to create a visual rhetoric that negotiates the domestic and international implications of warfare, while aiming to project an inclusive, universalist vision of humanity.

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