In between the fourth edition of Dubai Design Week currently underway, the opening of the Jameel Arts Center this weekend, and Abu Dhabi Art set to kick off tomorrow, the UAE is establishing itself as the place to be this month for art denizens. Joining the jam-packed cultural schedule is the first edition of Sharjah’s Fikra Graphic Design Biennal, taking place until November 30 across five floors of the eL Seed-infused, 1970s building that once housed the Bank of Sharjah (the building is scheduled for demolition). Founded by Salem Al-Qassimi, he of the design-led platform Fikra, the 21-day-long event aims to challenge people’s notions of graphic designers through various workshops, performances, installations, exhibitions, and conferences that explore contemporary and historical graphic design work.
“The biennial will question the very role of the graphic designer,” says Al-Qassimi in a statement, alluding to the commercialization of the medium. “It is perfect especially for the first edition of the biennial, as I would like to think of it as un-defining graphic design – challenging preconceived ideas of the discipline but providing an unexpectedly broad array of graphic design works, concepts, and initiatives.”
Overseen by Emily Smith, Na Kim, and Prem Krishnamurthy (who taught Al-Qassimi at the Rhode Island School of Design in Rhode Island), the art show created a fictional “Ministry of Graphic Design” for the biennial’s theme, a playful (and very graphic design-esque) nod to the UAE’s existing ministries. “The Ministry of Graphic Design” boasts five different departments, curated by different designers, and which explore varying themes. But if you’re not sure where to start, below, we namecheck five artworks currently on display at the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 2018 worth checking out.
“I Refuse the Distance” by Cheb Moha
A larger-than-life t-shirt that explores fashion’s current obsession with streetwear – in particular, graphic shirts. The magnified garment is but a basic white tee, save for hand-painted text that reads “I refuse the distance” in Arabic, inscribed across the front. The interactive artwork encourages the audience to step out of their comfort zone and slip into the t-shirt at the same time (upwards to 10 people can fit inside the garment at once, comfortably), advertently bringing people closer through fashion in a literal and metaphorical sense.
“Bayn Journal” by Elham Namvar and Rasha Dakkak
The Arabic word for “in between”, Bayn takes seemingly mundane objects such as prayer rugs, greeting cards, and souvenirs out of their everyday existence and places them in a museum-like light. The idea is to sensitize people to the elements of graphic design that are all around us, but often go completely unnoticed.
“Flowers for Immigration” by Lizania Cruz
This photography-based project is founded on the personal stories of undocumented bodega flower workers. The artist invited the workers to make a flower arrangement in response to Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policy. With this project, the artist hopes to give the oft-silenced bodega florists opportunity for self-expression, and create empathy without revealing their faces.
“LLC Redux A Great Place for Great People to Do Great Work” by Christopher Benton
A satirical mish-mash of signboards that recall the small businesses found dotted throughout Dubai’s vibrant Satwa community. The artist takes the shopfront names and replaces them with hilarious text drawn from job advertisements in the Gulf (such as “Martial arts knowledge a must” and “A great place for great people to do great work”), with visuals that mimic the random and copyright-disregarding imagery found in old Dubai.
“A Teenager With Promise (Annotated)” by Alexandra Bell
A large-scale printout of three news articles redacted and edited by the artist in an effort to pinpoint the underlying racism that can often exist in journalism. A Teenager With Promise (Annotated) features three large-scale prints of the New York Times articles that surfaced at the time of Michael Brown’s funeral. The prints discuss the unarmed teenager and Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed him. Bell annotates these two articles, crossing out all of the words, phrases, images, and sometimes, even entire sentences to reveal oppressive patterns in news reportage and society at large.