Fikra, the design-led educational platform based in the UAE, founded the Graphic Design Biennial with the intention of exploring the meaning, impact and shifting purpose of the practice in the 21st Century. In its first iteration, the biennial will be divided into 6 ‘departments’, which make up the ‘Ministry of Graphic Design’ – the biennial’s theme, inspired by what its founders describe as “the innovation-driven administrative structures of the UAE (which now include both a Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence and a Minister of State for Happiness)”.
The ‘departments’, as defined by the biennial’s artistic directors Prem Krishnamurthy, Na Kim and Emily Smith, each focus on a different aspect of historic or contemporary graphic design, and are titled: Department of Graphic Optimism, Department of Non-Binaries, Department of Flying Saucers, Department of Dematerialising Language, Department of Mapping Margins and Office of the Archive.
Although it’s unclear whether the biennial will, or is able to, grapple with the UAE’s continued violations of fundamental human rights; it’s interesting to see that the curators are taking a wide view on the socio-political potential of graphic design. The biennial takes in UAE government publishing and ‘place-making’ work; alongside exhibits interrogating newspaper bias; life as an undocumented worker; the trappings of language; a study on Arabic texting and chat culture, and a board-game interpretation of the moral implications of industrial livestock farming.
Of the biennial, its founder and director Salem Al-Qassimi says: “I think we’re at an exciting time with graphic design – the lines between different disciplines are becoming so blurred, the question of who graphic designers are, what they can do, how they “design”, and who they design for are increasingly worth reviewing. I would like to think of the Biennial as ‘undefining’ graphic design, challenging preconceived ideas of the discipline and providing an unexpectedly broad array of graphic design works, concepts and initiatives.”
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