In 1962, Poland (then a communist state) began commissioning local artists to design posters that would promote the state-run circus. At the time, the Communist Party had strict rules about what messages visual propaganda could send and how it could send them. The “socialist realism” aesthetic meant that Poland was plastered with images of rosy-cheeked Marxist workers. But these newly commissioned “Cyrk” posters were instead a cultural project, one that wasn’t subject to the Party’s rigid standards.

The designers, finally allowed to flex their creative muscles, developed a unique and distinctive style. The “Cryk” posters are characterized by abstract and surrealist imagery, bright colors, light-hearted highbrow/lowbrow humor, and handwritten typography. Instead of depicting any particular event or show, the artists chose to emphasize the fantastic escape a trip to the circus could offer its visitors.

The “Cryk” posters were extraordinarily popular, and continue to be. One poster, depicting Mona Lisa doing quasi-sexual acrobatics, became a national stamp in 2002.

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[via Slate]