I Draw Illustrations With Symbols Of The 20s, 40s And 60s To Express My Love For Pop-Culture And History
Hi! My name is Akber Ahmed and I’m an illustrator who currently lives in Berlin. Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved drawing something or the other. From the doodles, I made as a kid to the comics I drew as a teenager and movie posters I illustrated as a young adult.
When I look back I realize that there has always been one constant thread: my love for pop culture. From movies and music to historical world events, I have always been obsessed. In fact, growing up, my favorite book was ‘The Guinness Book of the 20th Century’.
A few months ago, I decided to combine my love for pop culture and history with my love for illustrations in a series I’ve titled ‘Decadent Decades’. It started with ‘The Roaring Twenties’, then ‘The Fighting Forties’ and most recent ‘The Swinging Sixties’. So without further ado, let’s take a trip back in time!
The Roaring Twenties
This decade in particular has always been very interesting to me as it was the period between the two wars and in many ways the events that took place during this time laid the foundation for the world we know today. Capturing all of this in one illustration was a great experience.
The construction of the Chrysler Building in New York begins. At the same time, Tutankhamun’s tomb is discovered. The Jazz Age is in a full swing!
Motion pictures begin to gain a hold on the public imagination offering Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, and the German Expressionist films of Fritz Lang. The Jazz Singer becomes the first film release with sound, opening up a world of possibilities. Hollywood is established with the famous sign and the first Academy Awards are held in 1929.
The Lost Generation was the name given to American writers, poets, and artists living in Europe. The popular Charleston dance swept the United States. Magritte paints The Treachery of Images.
The New York-based Doughnut Machine Corporation set its eyes upon foreign markets. Vladimir Lenin dies, Leon Trotsky is exiled from The Soviet Union to Turkey that is founded in 1923.
Charles A. Lindbergh completed the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight in history, flying his Spirit of St. Louis from Long Island, New York, to Paris, France.
Babe Ruth continued to break records as he played baseball for the Yankees.
Defining literature from the decade includes Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Kafka’s The Trial.
The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre resulted from the struggle between the Irish North Siders and their Italian South Side rivals, led by Al Capone, to control organized crime in Chicago during Prohibition.
The League of Nations is established.
With automobiles such as the Ford Model-A on the rise, traffic lights begin to be installed in major cities.
Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.
The Ku Klux Klan flourished throughout America with its mission to maintain white supremacy.
Mondrian paints Tableau I in 1921, creating the style that would define him.
The Suffragette movement succeeded in getting women the right to vote.
The Fighting Forties
This decade was dominated by World War II and the tragedies that it brought including the first nuclear attack, an event that would forever change the world. Depicting the chaos of this decade in one illustration was not easy.
Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler invades neighboring countries and begins World War II.
George Orwell pens seminal novel “1984”.
Dumbo is released, further strengthening Walt Disney’s position in motion pictures.
Britain is severely attacked by Nazi Germany during The Blitz.
Francis Bacon paints Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.
Salvador Dali paints The Face of War.
Popular films from the decade include Casablanca and Citizen Kane.
During World War II, aviation firmly established itself as a critical component of modern warfare.
Six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany during The Holocaust. They were killed in gas chambers.
Bugsy Siegel opens The Flamingo Hotel & Casino, laying the foundation of modern Las Vegas.
Created by cartoonists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America first appears in 1941.
The ballpoint pen is introduced, gradually replacing the fountain pen.
Anne Frank writes in her diary while in hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
In 1948, the newly declared State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states went to war over former British Palestine.
Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated by a right-wing advocate of Hindu nationalism.
Cigarettes continue to grow in popularity and are advertised everywhere.
The bikini was invented by Louis Réard. He named it after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, the site of nuclear weapon tests.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declares war on the Empire of Japan, announced to the nation through the radio that was now a mass medium.
Europe’s postwar reorganization is discussed at the Yalta Conference in 1945 by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin.
Colossus is the world’s first programmable computer and is used by British codebreakers to read Enigma encrypted German messages during World War II.
Mount Rushmore is constructed.
The end of World War II increased the rate of decolonization from the great powers with the United Kingdom granting independence to India and the foundation of Pakistan.
The United Nations is established in 1945 along with NATO and the IMF.
Crooners like Frank Sinatra continue to climb the Billboard Charts. Songs captured the emotions of the war. Some spoke of the longings that loved ones felt for each other when they were separated by events, and these are the songs that have endured. “I’ll be Home by Christmas” by Bing Crosby along with countless others have been popular sellers ever since.
Good news for African Americans as Joe Louis is widely regarded as the first to achieve the status of a nationwide hero, and Jackie Robinson becomes the first to play in Major League Baseball.
During the final stage of World War II, the United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs are named Little Boy and Fat Man.
Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies.
When the Allies invaded the beaches of Normandy, foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front were laid.
On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic of China.
The Swinging Sixties
The 60s was such a pivotal time in all areas of life, and to bring the whole decade together in one illustration was such a joy to me.
Our journey into space begins with the launch of Telstar, the world’s first communications satellite.
Meanwhile back on Earth, Stan Lee lays the foundation of Marvel Comics with the introduction of Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, and Hulk.
Readers everywhere are captivated by Truman Capote’s seminal true-crime novel ‘In Cold Blood’ and Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
Alberto Giacometti sculpts his famous ‘L’Homme qui marche I’.
In Los Angeles, actress Marilyn Monroe is found dead in her bed after overdosing on barbiturates.
The Civil Rights movement in America is forever defined by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech during the March on Washington.
The Berlin Wall is constructed physically and ideologically dividing Berlin from 1961 to 1989.
US President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas reportedly by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.
In South Africa, revolutionary Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state government (Apartheid).
Meanwhile, South African doctor Christiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant.
Bobby Charlton is an essential member of the English football team that wins the World Cup in 1966.
‘Psycho’ directed by Alfred Hitchcock scares audiences nationwide with it’s slow buildups to sudden shocks.
Jean-Luc Godard’s film ‘Breathless’ was one of the earliest, most influential examples of French New Wave cinema.
Tom Wolfe pens ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test’, a firsthand account of the experiences of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, who traveled across the country in a colorfully painted school bus.
Walt Disney adapts ‘Mary Poppins’ into a musical fantasy film starring Julie Andrews in the titular role.
Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara is executed in Bolivia making him a symbol of revolution for generations to come.
‘Goldfinger’, the third installment in the James Bond film series starring Sean Connery as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond is released to rave reviews.
Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s paints ‘Hopeless’, adapting the imagery and motifs of comic strips into his work.
The Beatles make their debut on American television starting the wave of Beatlemania across the world.
Maurice Sendak writes and illustrates the children’s picture book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.
Another children’s picture book, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ is written and illustrated by Eric Carle, becoming a staple in classrooms across the globe.
French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg is equally famous for his number one hits as well as his romances with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin.
In the film, the genre of science fiction is pushed forward by the entertaining ‘Planet of the Apes’ and Stanley Kubrick’s epic ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.
Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary becomes an advocate for LSD, coining the phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.
Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk burns himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.
Ford introduces the Mustang to the public, their most successful launch since the Model A.
Gangster Joseph Valachi testifies in court stating that the Italian-American Mafia actually existed, the first time a member had acknowledged its existence in public.
Boxer Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston and wins the World Heavyweight Championship. He is then welcomed into the Nation of Islam by Malcolm X and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, effectively changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
The Kray twins dominate the streets of London’s East End through murder, armed robbery, arson, protection rackets, and assaults.
Founding Rolling Stones member Brian Jones is discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool. The coroner’s report stated “death by misadventure”, and noted his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse.
Bob Dylan performs his first electric concert at the Newport Folk Festival. Some sections of the audience booed Dylan’s performance to criticize him for moving away from political songwriting and for performing with an electric band instead.
‘The Bug’, aka Volkswagen Beetle is one of the most popular cars during this decade, especially amongst hippies, who would often adorn their rides with psychedelic art.
The Manson Family, led by self-proclaimed prophet Charles Manson gains international notoriety after the brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate and four others. They were imprisoned shortly afterward.
‘Sesame Street’ debuts on television introducing Jim Henson’s Muppets to the world.
Mao Zedong launches the Cultural Revolution in China. Millions will be persecuted as he asserts his authority.
With the emergence of television as a source of entertainment and information, graphic news footage from Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement brought horrifying, moving images of the bloody reality of armed conflict into living rooms for the first time. One key example is the execution of Viet Cong member Nguyễn Văn Lém that was aired on national television.
The birth control pill is introduced effectively ushering in the Sexual Revolution.
US Astronaut Neil Armstrong is the first man on the moon.
Richard Nixon is sworn in as the 37th President of the United States.
US involvement in the Vietnam War rages on.
Second-wave feminism spreads throughout the world symbolized by the burning of bras and spearheaded by feminists like Gloria Steinem.
The movement against the Vietnam War is led by activists such as Abbie Hoffman who was one of the Chicago Eight arrested for violent confrontations with police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Many in the peace movement within the US were students, mothers, or anti-establishment hippies. Their persistence eventually forced the government to end US involvement in the war.
As infighting increases within The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’ becomes their last studio recording project as John Lennon goes on to preach the benefits of ‘Bagism’ and ‘Bed Peace’ with Yoko Ono.
The Stonewall Riots were violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located on Christopher Street, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Boeing 727 debuts, opening the door to travel for millions.
Television series ‘Star Trek’ is aired on television, allowing it’s viewers to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no one has gone before.
The Factory was artist’s Andy Warhol New York City studio. Famed for its groundbreaking parties, The Factory was the hip hangout for artistic types, amphetamine users, and the Warhol ‘superstars’. In the studio, Warhol’s workers would make silkscreens and lithographs under his direction.
Yasser Arafat becomes the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
‘The Summer of Love’ brought as many as 100,000 young hippies to San Francisco’s neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury.
‘The Lizard King’ is an alter ego used by Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, to imitate a Native American shaman.
The band Jefferson Airplane released the acid-inspired ‘White Rabbit’. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, the song was supposed to be a slap to parents who read their children such novels and then wondered why their children later used drugs!
‘The Flintstones’ became the first animated series to be nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, but lost out to ‘The Jack Benny Program’.
Older teenagers and adults have admitted to enjoying the cartoon ‘Where Are You Scooby-Doo?’ because of presumed subversive themes such as that Shaggy is assumed to be a user of cannabis and Velma is assumed to be a lesbian!
‘Batman’, a television series starring Adam West as the caped-crusader entertains audiences with its camp style, upbeat theme music, and its intentionally humorous, simplistic morality.
The advertising agencies of Madison Avenue continue to enjoy their heyday.
The Zodiac killer continued to murder his victims in Northern California and taunting law enforcement and newspapers with his infamous cryptograms. He would sign his letters with a crosshair-like symbol.
‘Oh! Calcutta!’ was an Off-Broadway avant-garde theatrical show that sparked considerable controversy at the time, because it featured extended scenes of total nudity, both male and female.
The most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympics occurred when two black American athletes raised a black-gloved fist during the medal ceremony of the 200-meter running event.
Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party to challenge police brutality.
Women of the party such as Angela Davis were portrayed as revolutionaries and active participants in the armed self-defense movement.
Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi achieved fame as the guru to the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and other celebrities.
Easy Rider is the landmark counterculture film that explores the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960s, such as the rise of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle.
The Woodstock Festival is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation. One of the key moments from this festival was Jimi Hendrix playing his version of the Star-Spangled Banner.
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