Sharjah announces first Fikra Graphic Design Biennial

The month-long event will take place in Sharjah and will comprise of workshops, performances, installations, a conference and exhibitions exploring contemporary and historical graphic design work

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - June 19th, 2018: Sheikh Salem Al-Qassimi at Fikra Design Studios. Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 at Fikra Design Studios, Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Fikra Design Studio, the graphic design lab in Sharjah, has announced the first ever Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, which will take place this November.

“We wanted to challenge the status of graphic design in this part of the world,” says Salem Al Qassimi, Fikra’s founder. “The biennial is a way to present graphic design, as a trans-disciplinary subject, to the public.”

The month-long event will take place in Sharjah and will comprise workshops, performances, installations, a conference and exhibitions exploring contemporary and historical graphic design work.

Three artistic directors have been appointed for the inaugural edition: Emily Smith, Na Kim and Prem Krishnamurthy, the latter of who taught Al Qassimi at the US art school RISD. Inspired by the UAE’s more novel ministries such as the Ministry of Happiness and the Ministry of AI, they are creating a fictional “Ministry of Graphic Design” for the biennial’s theme. “We called it a ministry to reflect how the UAE is forward-thinking, but also to elevate the role of graphic design today. To say that it’s a ministry means we’re making it more important as a discipline,” Al Qassimi says. He adds, laughing, “It’s a very graphic design approach to making a biennial — coming up with these structures, making these systems.”

The Ministry will comprise of five departments, such as the Department of Mapping Margins, which will oversee a conference among the participants and other invitees, and the Department of Graphic Optimism. The latter will look at the design messaging put out by the UAE in the 1970s and 80s, by designers such as Hisham Al Madhloum, when it was establishing itself as a country.

Working with these directors — in a slightly complex organisational structure — are curators, who will each organise the five pavilions. Hala Al Ani and Riem Hassan, who are two-thirds of the Dubai-based graphic design studio Möbius, will curate the “Department of Flying Saucers.” (Lest you think the Biennial has taken the expansive possibilities for graphic design too far, this department was named after the famous flying saucer building in Sharjah, recently restored by the Sharjah Art Foundation, rather than extraterrestrial transportation strategies.) Al Ani and Hassan will invite four different global graphic design studios to present their work for a week each at the biennial.

“The idea of the biennial is to celebrate graphic designers beyond the commercial realm,” says Al Ani “These designers work in experimental ways, pursuing artistic content. Creating a platform of this calibre puts the discussion in Sharjah on the international scene.”

Möbius itself is a good example of this kind of hybrid studio: it works in traditional projects such as book and website design, but it also pursues non-commercial work such as the Design House, a yearly project in Sharjah that facilitates graphic design work, chosen by an open call, such as research publications.

Fikra Design Studio is itself in many ways the progenitors of design labs such as Möbius’s. Al Qassimi launched the studio in 2006 and it was one of the first in the region to put Arab typography and design on equal footing with English-language typography, and to engage with ambitious global dialogues about graphic design. Earlier this year, Al Qassimi and his collaborator Maryam Al Qassimi launched Fikra Campus, a site for freelance co-working spaces and exhibitions on the border between Sharjah and Dubai.

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