Giselle Monzón
Graphic designer

Cuba is probably the only country in the world where films, plays, concerts, round tables and art exhibitions are still publicized through conceptual silkscreen posters printed individually, color by color, in old-fashioned workshops. And if you’re vaguely familiar with the island’s vibrant graphic arts scene, you’ve probably heard of Giselle Monzón, one of the most active exponents of Cuba’s new generation of designers. 

Don’t let this voluble young lady’s unassuming and highly approachable nature fool you: Giselle’s posters reveal an impressive flair for finding the cleverest associations between objects to synthesize an idea and an uncanny sophistication of thought.  “When I’m tasked with a new design, I begin by thinking about words that are related to the subject, that are suggestive of it. When you have an idea of the universe surrounding the concept, you begin looking for connections — formal connections —and linking the different elements.”

Most of Giselle’s work is related to cultural happenings and is commissioned by organisms like the Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industries (ICAIC) or the Center for the Development of Visual Arts. “The clients have an approach that gives you more freedom as a designer, and this turns you into an artist. So it’s enriching and easier to work in this environment.” This, however, doesn’t mean that she scoffs at graphic design applied to commercial purposes: “Some people might find it it’s frivolous, but I think it’s also interesting. And in Cuba we hardly do graphic design for advertising.” 

Giselle is well connected to graphic designers in other parts of the world and she’s regularly invited to attend conferences and festivals abroad. Her friendship with a French-German designer, Nathalie Seisser, gave way to one of the most ambitious projects for the dissemination of Cuban posters of the past decades. In 2012, the two designers coordinated a special issue of Slanted— a prestigious typography and graphic design magazine published in Germany for a worldwide audience— dedicated to Cuban graphic design, typography, and contemporary art.  “It sold out very quickly. We were happy—and surprised,” she says. 

When asked about the uniqueness of Cuban poster art that so ignites the imagination of design enthusiasts worldwide, she explains: “I think Cubans have a vision of color that is slightly different. The sun strikes with such force in this country that colors and nuances are altered. So you get used to seeing life like that, with intense reds, greens and yellows, and we represent that in the way we work: the colors are more saturated than the posters that are made in Europe, for example, in which the harmonies tend to be grayer, duller.”

The improvement of economic conditions will likely facilitate the work of Cuban designers, currently restricted by scarcity of basic materials: “I want us to have the same options—the same range of colors, printing formats, paper— as when you print a book or a catalog. I’m convinced that if we had the possibility to choose, the result would be oftentimes better.” However, preserving the defining characteristics of the Cuban poster as we know it might also prove to be a challenge: “I would love to maintain silkscreen reproduction and the conceptual and metaphorical style, but I realize that it will be difficult since it isn’t profitable or efficient. This is something that I really regret, but I still hope we can somehow maintain this tradition.”