Saturday, April 24, 2010

Managua 1986: Words Everywhere

In the average American city you're constantly surrounded by advertising images. There are billboards, shop signs, advertising posters, stickers, signs on the sides of trucks and buses everywear you look. Lit up at night and sometimes blinking, these messages beg for our attention constantly, each one with its promise of our enhanced appearance or the possibility of entertainment or trying to convince us to part with our hard-earned money for something we don't want or need. Many of these signs are lies, carefully worded attempts to delude us into thinking we have the possibility of absolving our previous bad choices for something better. I work as a graphic designer, and I know what that's all about, trying to sell things I don't really believe in to people who probably would be happier without them. It's a living. But I digress: we learn to tune out the incessant chatter. When you watch TV really, how many cars can you buy, how many 4-hour erections can you fret over, how many medicinal side effects can you ponder before you risk the latest wonder drug, how much shampoo could you possibly use (rinse, lather, repeat again and again and again?), how many candy bars can you eat, how many laxatives will you then need to unclog your bowels of all this pollution you have bought? If I drink a new kind of beer will I be thin and beautiful, or if only I had a child with a terrible medical condition I could be unbelievably rich for the rest of my life thanks to weaselly sounding lawyers.

Most of these words mean nothing; they're irrelevant. It's all crap, and it's miraculous we're not all insane.

When I stayed in Nicaragua in 1986 there were also words everywhere you looked. But it was different. Few people had any money, and because of the US embargo there was nothing to buy anyway. I don't know what it's like now, but then there were no storefronts, no shopping, no brands to choose from. The competition of words was a different kind: I wonder if it was less futile. It certainly had more substance. These words offered actionable hope or righteous outrage or real-life determination.

The stencilled sign above from the official Sandinista trade union, on the side of a factory in Managua reads: "Cada Fabrica una trinchera por la defensa de la revolucion por la construccion del socialismo. No Pasaran!": "Each factory a trench for the defense of the revolution, for the construction of socialism. They shall not pass!"

There wasn't a lot of paper clutter in Nicaragua; paper was valuable and rare. Here's an unusual flyer, pasted on a wall by the Maoists of the MAP-ML/Frente Obrero calling for democratic rights.

As if their spoken words were not enough, here a banner behind the FSLN leadership at a "meet the people" function at a factory warns the imperialists to back off. That's FSLN chief Daniel Ortega fourth from left.

In the center of the city still unrebuilt after the earthquake of 1972, every blank wall was the canvass for another political message. Here the MAP-ML Maoists, who suffered occasional repression at the hands of the FSLN, campaign against the legalization of bourgeois political parties.

On the first of May the ruined Cathedral in the center of town was draped with banners. The one on the bottom reads "Muerte al Yanque Invasor": "Death to the Yankee Invader."

All the messages were about taking the future into one's own hands. Here the sign outside a hall says "Saca tu dolor cobarde...." "Take your pain, coward, release your sick mind...Brother are you looking for forgiveness: remember the Companeros of AA." It's an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting hall; that's the serenity prayer on the left.

If the world around me is to be cluttered up with words, I'd rather read these crude hopes and wishes and exhortations than the prettied up lies of American consumerism.
All photos copyright by me, 1986. Click on them to see them larger; they embiggen nicely.


  1. Ian, I just discovered this picture. Stolen, with credit, on my facebook page.

    This might interest you by the way,

  2. Awesome. Good luck with the new blog!