Paris: May 1968 Posters of the Student Revolt

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A student hurling rocks at the police in Paris during the May 1968 student uprising. The protests transformed France.Credit...Gamma-Keystone, via Getty Images
A student hurling rocks at the police in Paris during the May 1968 student uprising. The protests transformed France.Credit…Gamma-Keystone, via Getty Images

Students in Paris occupied the Sorbonne on May 3, 1968, sparking a cultural and social revolution that changed French society in a short time. It was not a political revolution but a cultural and social one that affected Paris and the provinces.

In the turbulent days of May 1968 in Paris, a group of artists calling themselves the Atelier Populaire created posters that were vital in spreading the call to unite students and workers.  Immediate pressures fed the propaganda of the French revolt.  The day-by-day events – the disruption of classes at Nanterre University led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the supporting student demonstrations in Paris, the police invasion of the Sorbonne and its occupation by students, the barricades, and the government’s reaction and referendum – these were the events that produced the newspaper stories and also these spontaneous, passionate comments in the poster medium.

Creating the Posters

The process of making posters was rapid and direct: “Graffiti sustained a relentless match of squash against the communique of the official radio and TV.  Slogans were picked off the walls and brought to limited printing facilities of l’Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, rebaptised Atelier Populaire by the students entrenched there.  Students and sympathetic workers encaptured by the spirit of community – experimented with participatory design, discussing and choosing together the poster subjects and images.  Anonymity was not only a consequence of this working method but also an understandable necessity.

Arte รštil / Popular Workshop
Arte รštil / Popular Workshop

The first posters were printed by whatever means were at hand.  As the movement became more organised and more people became involved, silkscreen workshops were established.  When need overcame production, the ateliers were joined by the workshops of the Faculties of Science and Psychology, as well as by the Committees of Revolutionary Action operating in each neighbourhood, which resorted to every available printing medium. – blueprint and office duplicating machines included.  In solidarity, Paris’s international artistic community contributed posters which, although more accomplished graphically, lacked the punch of the students’ simplicity.

Be Young and Shut Up Poster

This phrase encapsulated the frustration and anger felt by many young people at the time, tired of being silenced by an older generation they saw as out of touch. The protests ultimately led to widespread social and political change in France, with many reforms being implemented in response to the protesters’ demands. The poster has become an iconic image of this period in French history and is still widely recognized today as a symbol of youth activism and rebellion. Its message continues to resonate with young people worldwide fighting for their voices to be heard and their rights to be respected.

"Be Young and Shut Up." Paris Revolt 1968
“Be Young and Shut Up.” Paris Revolt 1968
France May 1968 - Riot Cop Poster
France May 1968 – Riot Cop Poster
May 1968 Protest Poster
May 1968 Protest Poster
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