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Introduction to the African Section Poster Collection

(The following is a post by Talia Lieber, Junior Fellow 2021, African Section, African and Middle Eastern Division.)

The African Section in the African and Middle Eastern Division holds a rich collection of more than 700 posters amassed over the last six decades from across Sub-Saharan Africa. As a Junior Fellow at the Library of Congress, I assisted Laverne Page, Area Specialist in the African Section, with examining and creating a finding aid so that the posters are available for viewing in the African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room and accessible online for scholars, researchers and members of the public to study.

The posters in the African Poster Collection address a range of subjects, including sports, health, women, education, environment, tourism, heritage and politics. Printed primarily on paper, the posters include ephemera, press documents and promotional materials. They contain words and/or images that promote distinct messages, document specific moments in time, and relay stories pertinent to African history and culture.

A poster in circular shape with text reading Boycott South African goods, contaminated with apartheid,

Anti-apartheid poster, South Africa. Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division.

For example, this political Anti-Apartheid poster from South Africa was featured as part of an exhibition curated by Library of Congress staff at the White House on April 12, 1999 during the Millennium Lecture series, hosted by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. As part of the event, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate and the author of “Night,” gave the speech, The Perils of Indifference. The poster serves also as a decal in that it contains an adhesive on its reverse side so that it can be stuck on to a wall or vehicle. Its composition appears as a caution sign, warning approaching viewers of South African goods contaminated with the violence of apartheid.

Another example held in the African Poster Collection is one produced by United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) as part of a nutrition campaign in 2000. The poster features images of various foods, including fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables local to Tanzania. The message printed in Kiswahili, one of the national languages of Tanzania, encourages those who encounter the poster to eat foods rich in Vitamin A. The poster urges readers to remember the importance of Vitamin A for one’s body, including for eyesight, the immune system, and a healthy pregnancy for women. The poster’s final message offers a tip for cooking leafy greens with oil so that the body may better absorb the Vitamin A consumed.

A poster with images of foods and text in Kiswahili.

“Eat Foods Rich in Vitamin A (Kula vyakula vyenye vitamini a kwa wingi),” United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Tanzania; Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC), Tanzania, 2000. Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division.

These posters and others held in the African Poster Collection complement an array of others from the African continent held in the Prints & Photographs Division (P&P). While the African Poster Collection was broadly conceived at its inception, P&P holds a more focused collection of African posters selected on the basis of their artistic value. Although only a selection of the posters are digitized, all posters are available for viewing in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room by appointment. To schedule an appointment, submit a request using the P&P Ask a Librarian service and complete an unprocessed request form that lists the items and subjects of specific interest.

To access the African Poster Collection in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room, submit a request via AMED’s Ask a Librarian or call (202) 707-4188 for further information. Read important information here about accessing the Library of Congress reading rooms during the pandemic.

Learn More

African Treasures at the Library of Congress: Africana Political Ephemra,” by Angel D. Batiste.

Library of Congress Africana Collections: An Illustrated Guide.”

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