Posters are often magnets … for defacement. Many such “interventions” are simply benign jokes, but just as frequently they are menacingly hateful racist and sexist responses by modern-day Vandals and Goths.
In Zagreb, Croatia, the “Students for Tolerance” poster exhibition opened last week on the Republic of Croatia Square, directly in front of the School of Applied Arts and Design and the Museum of Arts and Crafts. The posters show a variety of responses from four historically hostile neighboring nations to the unifying theme of tolerance. Not long after they were put on display in Zagreb, they were vandalized.
As reported on the Croat news site IndexHR: “This morning, a citizen reported to the police that one of the posters from the exhibition offended him. … A little later, a group of men scribbled ‘LGBT’ on the poster with a felt-tip pen and … then wrapped [the poster] in a white shroud so passersby could not see it.”
The poster that caused the ruckus has the headline “Disgusting, but I tolerate it,” and the text: “Every Sunday a veteran, a conservative, a liberal, a gay and an atheist sit down at the table and tolerate each other.” The photo shows a family having a meal together; the image is blurred but a cross is visible on the wall.
Although the student designer’s use of the word “disgusting” is arguably a questionable choice, the message is meant to be ironic in tone and acerbically targets overt and covert beliefs. The Zagreb news site explains: “We may have different beliefs, we may not agree on opinions and actions, but within the community, in this case the family, we support and tolerate each other regardless of all our differences and disagreements. And perhaps within such a community is exactly the first lesson we learn about tolerance. To love each other. This poster talks about that love and it is sad that this kind of student work serves to promote hate speech.”
This series of posters has been exhibited without damage or incident in Graz, Austria, at the Design Monat festival; in Berlin, during the Berlin Design Week; and in Ljubljana, Slovena.
In Zagreb, although organizers removed the white cloth cover, by late afternoon the poster was vandalized for a second time.
Meanwhile, in the center of Zagreb, a blitz of homophobic and xenophobic posters with the coat of arms of Zagreb and the inscription “Zagreb for equality” were pasted on lampposts and bus shelters. The poster at right reads: “Support the LGBTQ+ community—children have the right to love adults!” The poster at left reads: “Let’s accept migrants together—welcome new Croats.” It depicts a crossed-out photo of white, blonde (Nazi-era) well-behaved girls and two other contrasting photos, one showing riots involving Black people and the other protests in Asia. In the background is the 1892 painting Antemurale Christianitatis (Antecedents of Christianity) by Ferdinand von Quiquerez-Beaujeu. It is an allegorical depiction of Croatia as the defender of Christian Europe.
The Zagreb city seal at the bottom of the work is a failed attempt to suggest these are official posters. The City of Zagreb began removing them immediately. Nonetheless, the virus spreads.