If you saw a swastika on a book, magazine or flyer what would you do? Would you admire it because of its graphic strength or would you be appalled by what it stands for? What about the images below? What comes to mind? How do you respond? This is the dilemma that I have. I am fascinated by these images.
They represent the same ideology if not the same criminality as a swastika. The faces is the Italian Fascist symbol. Like the swastika it has multiple meanings. It hangs in the chamber of the United States congress, it represented the Senate of Rome. But it also was the icon of Italian dictatorship, imperialism and racism. In Rome today most of them have been destroyed, blasted off buildings, torn of lampposts, removed from public view (for the most part). Yet there are plenty of graphically designed artifacts (like this relatively benign magazine about public assistanece and back page ad for wool) available for sale in flea markets and antique stores with the faces as pieces of bygone curiosity and nostalgia.
The faces in its day was branded on everything. Magazines, posters, advertisements and so much more. It still represents a totalitarian regime. But it also has a certain graphic allure.
While in Rome two weeks ago, an Italian student said “we must stop fetishizing Fascist graphic design.” A right-led populist coalition government had just taken power, just like Hungary, Poland and elsewhere in today’s world. The student was worried that celebrating Fascist design would help in normalizing the idea that Fascism wasn’t and isn’t so bad. Governments in Italy swing right and left from year to year — well, Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship lasted around twenty years. The student is right: Fetishizing the faces makes it easy to be desensitized to the evils of the past and make the path of tolerance to intolerance more acceptable. I hate Fascism but separate the history of design from the history of the politics that it serves. This has got to stop, time does not heal wounds. These images, including the benign pages from the magazine below on Social Assistance cannot be shown out of context. Everything has meaning, then and now. The Faces cannot be redeemed or ignored as the pendulum starts its anti-democratic swing.