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The Indies Must Be Free! A Japanese octopus, 1944

The Indies Must Be Free! A Japanese octopus, 1944

In this context “Indie Moet Vrij” means that the Dutch East Indies should be Dutch again. Pat Keely’s poster, printed in London c. 1944, was presumably aimed at those Free Dutch troops still in England and, as the war progressed, the population of the partially liberated Netherlands. The end of the war in the Dutch East Indies was particularly messy; like the Netherlands itself, it was largely bypassed by Allied forces, which in this case were driving towards the Japanese homeland. During the Japanese occupation millions died from starvation or through forced labour, but the confused months after VJ Day saw the continued internment of European nationals and fighting between Indonesian nationalists and Japanese soldiers still under arms (here, as elsewhere in the region, the Allies made widespread use of Japanese Surrendered Personnel; JSPs - PoWs by another name - were employed on reconstruction projects and, with even more dubious legality, participated in direct military action. The transition from war to peace created some strange bedfellows). Dutch authority was eventually restored, but within five years had been superseded by freedom of a kind not envisaged by the makers of this poster: in 1949 Indonesia was recognised as an independent nation.

Pat Keely’s octopus is squarely in the tradition of cartographic cephalopods established by Fred Rose in the 1870s. Rose’s octopus is squat, almost slug-like, with sunken eyes and fat but powerful tentacles. Keely’s octopus is lithe, with pinprick demoniacal eyes, the slender tips of its tentacles curling with whiplike precision around the principal islands of the archipelago. The principle remains the same: one’s enemy is less than human. Keely wasn’t the only artist to have brought Rose’s concept into the mid twentieth century. A Vichy French poster featured in the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition last year cast Churchill in the role. Patrick Cokayne Keely (?-1970) was a well known poster artist, who designed posters for London Transport and the GPO among other clients. His posters were characterised by simplicity of design and strong use of colour, highly effective in conveying a simple message, as here.

Nightmail is immensely atmospheric and another smart use of cartography. The track becomes the spine of the country, with signal lamps picking out the principal cities on the route north. Just by way of contrast, here’s Rose’s original octopus:

I have to confess that this is not a photograph of an original example from the 1870s. I normally like to show original material which I have with me in the shop, but I simply don’t have one of these at the moment. But it is an original hand-printed lithograph. This is one of a number which the excellent Colin and Megan of Artichoke printers made for me, using traditional techniques, after we had worked together on the Tern Television series ‘The Beauty of Maps’ for BBC 4. The originals have become so expensive, and so difficult to locate, that I can recommend this as a way of enjoying the map. And it is a proper lithograph, not a laser copy!

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