The Fikra Graphic Design Biennial

Ministry of Graphic Design

Author: Slanted editors

During his stay in the Emirates, Lars Harmsen met Salem Faissal Al-Qassimi, Founder & Principal of Fikra. His studio now organized the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial: Ministry of Graphic Design”. Invited to lecture and give a workshop, Lars send us a few impressions of the event happing right now in Sharjah.

This wide-ranging exhibition and curatorial initiative explores graphic design’s influence in shaping the present and imagining potential futures.

Set to open on November 9, 2018 and run until the end of the month in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 01 creates a departure point for dialogue, research, and thinking within the discipline. Anchored in Sharjah, but extending to the wider region and beyond, the Biennial will offer a global platform to shed light on the role of graphic design in the 21st century.

Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 01: Ministry of Graphic Design draws inspiration from the unique governmental structures within the United Arab Emirates, such as the Minister of State for Happiness and the Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence. The fictional yet familiar format of a “Ministry of State” serves here to facilitate experimental thinking about the expanded field of graphic design and its impact on public opinion, entrepreneurship, culture, technology, and society-at-large.

Ministry of Graphic Design is organized into several Departments, each representing a distinctive curatorial focus and format. These Departments include the Department of Graphic Optimism, Department of Dematerializing Language, Department of Non-Binaries, Department of Flying Saucers, and Department of Mapping Margins. Presenting objects, ideas, performances, installations, and more, the exhibition’s curatorial departments embrace a polyphonic and geographically-diverse approach to historical and contemporary practice.

The overall Biennial and its Departments serve to catalog and exhibit existing design works alongside contributions from adjacent fields; to workshop real-world problems and theoretical questions; and to propose speculative designs that project future scenarios and strategies for the discipline.

“We are excited to launch this first-of-its-kind, international graphic design biennial in the region. We envisaged creating a graphic design biennial for both professionals and the general public alike,” said Salem Al-Qassimi, Founder and Principal of Fikra, and Director of the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial. “The event aims to communicate the importance of graphic design as a practice and help designers understand it better. More importantly, I think that it is crucial to have a representation of this region in the discourse related to graphic design practice across the globe. It is equally important for us to carry forward our ideas, culture, and narrative.”

Prem Krishnamurthy, issuing a joint statement on behalf of the Artistic Directors, commented that “Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 01: Ministry of Graphic Design proposes graphic design as integral to contemporary civic life, forming nearly every medium, message, and communication we encounter today. While graphic design is sometimes overlooked as the mere commercial production of visual surfaces for existing ideas, in reality, it is a timely medium for catalyzing new approaches. Intended seriously yet inflected by a tongue-in-cheek approach, the theme presents graphic design in familiar and unconventional formats. During this moment of global turbulence, the exhibition challenges the public perception of the field and experiments beyond accepted disciplinary boundaries. Our goal is to start a dialogue around what graphic design could accomplish tomorrow.”

The Biennial team consists of Salem Al-Qassimi, Founder, and Principal of Fikra and Director of Fikra Graphic Design Biennial; Maryam Al Qassimi, Principal of Fikra and Co-Director of the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial; Eleonora Cervellera, Head of Programming and Partnerships; as well as Artistic Directors for the inaugural edition of the biennial: Prem Krishnamurthy, Na Kim, and Emily Smith, supported by a curatorial team including Hala Al-Ani & Riem Hassan, Nina Paim & Corinne Gisel, Uzma Rizvi, and Alia Al-Sabi. Additionally, the team includes an advisory board of cultural experts, Dr. Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, Pascal Zoghbi, Kiyonori Muroga, Catherine Ince, and Uzma Rizvi.

Fikra is a design-led educational platform that comprises Fikra Campus—a co-working space, a café, a gallery, and a library—Fikra Design Studio, and Fikra Graphic Design Biennial.