‘Propaganda style’ art by Welsh design collective Ffŵligans is a call to revolution
“Our work is influenced by propaganda posters we came across whilst living and working in Vietnam, as well as travelling in China and Laos,” explains Eirlys Rees, one half of Conwy-based partnership Ffŵligans, who create Welsh ‘propaganda style’ posters.
Their work is inspired by the constructivism of early twentieth century Russia. This is not art simply for art’s sake but art that is pushing for social change.
What Ffŵligans intend to provoke is nothing short of revolution. While their work features contemporary elements like rhyme and humour, the clean lines, simple imagery and bold typography of yesteryear ensure these highly functional designs remain firmly concerned with issues of the day.
But despite constructivism having its basis in political ideology, inspiration for key pieces was found closer to home.
Eirlys explains: “Heb Iaith Heb Hunaniaeth was initially aimed at our children to encourage them to converse more in Welsh with each other—we’d moved from Bristol so that they could gain a Welsh education.
“I believe that language and identity are integrally bound; it’s a call to us all to claim the language as our own.”
In the design Rhannu Nid Barnu, they warn against gatekeeping of the Welsh language.
“The Welsh language is for everyone to speak—even using basic greetings and pleasantries is speaking Welsh.
“While there is a need for ‘correct’ Welsh, there is also a need for Welsh to evolve and be used every day; being such an ancient language, there can be an apparent distinction between the two.
“I have the utmost respect for people who are interested enough in the culture and language to learn it. Learning a language, particularly as an adult, isn’t easy.
“I tried to learn Vietnamese when I lived there and was pretty bad at it—even my tutor would tell me so—so Rhannu Nid Barnu is also aimed at me!
“It’s a reminder not to be so quick to correct my children’s grammar and ability to mutate, or Mark’s attempts at learning the language – particularly when I still make mistakes myself.”
With regards to Gorfoleddwch – Cymry Ydym Ni, she explains: “I have been considering changing this to ‘Cymru ydym ni’—we are Wales—instead of we are Welsh.
“It’s so important to strive for an inclusive Wales where everyone who identifies as Welsh feels Welsh.
“This is also a nod to our misspent youth in raves and techno clubs, evoking a sense of unity with total strangers in a field or warehouse; in this context, it’s a sense of unity with total strangers within our own country.”
Eirlys and Mark believe we must revolutionise not only the way we regard identity and our fellow countryfolk but also the land on which we’re lucky enough to live.
With regard to Achub y Planed, Eirlys says: “We live in a world that thrives on mass production and consumerism and it can be depressing thinking about the state of the planet.
“But, we won’t give up hope. People’s attitude and choices can make changes. The image was inspired by a trip to Catalunya where we wandered Barcelona’s labyrinth of back alleys inspired by graffiti and body art.
“Personally, I think she could do with an updated lockdown look with a pot belly and tufts of armpit hair!”
Perhaps the pair’s most affecting design is Wedi Cael Digon o’r Mwydro, which paints Wales as a multicultural society while acknowledging things are far from ideal. ‘It was inspired by the Vietnamese ‘call to action’ posters we saw on our travels, which seems fitting in our modern political climate, encouraging change from dissatisfaction. We believe drastic change is needed.’
There is definite change in the air. Recent weeks show the Welsh aren’t willing to put up with any nonsense, be that boycotting Iceland supermarkets to ensure the swift de-throning of a director who referred to Welsh as ‘gibberish’, or condemning the NHS boss who compared Welsh speakers to white South Africans during aparethid.
Meanwhile, ITV’s recent poll in collaboration with Savanta ComRes put support for Welsh independence at a record 39%.
As this number continues to climb, it seems inevitable the public will develop a hunger for this highly charged, unapologetically assertive yet ever hopeful style of art.
Eirlys concludes: “Our intention is to encourage people to pay attention and take responsibility. By coming together and doing the little things we’ll contribute to much bigger foundational changes.”
See you at the revolution.