The Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, the Middle East’s first graphic design biennial opens its doors in Sharjah, with an entirely unofficial ‘Ministry of Graphic Design’.

The 1970s-modernist building that once housed the Bank of Sharjah and was scheduled for demolition has been repurposed to house the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial exhibition, ‘Ministry of Graphic Design’, across its multiple floors for three weeks. Organized by Fikra, a graphic design studio and education platform, the biennial brings together designers and industry leaders from over 20 countries to explore design conversations and the role of graphic design in an increasingly fragmented landscape. “The biennial comprises exhibitions, performances, workshops, talks, and a conference that collectively showcase an expanded view of the field of graphic design. This 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”, says Salem Al-Qassimi, founder of Fikra.

As conceived by its artistic directors Prem Krishnamurthy, Emily Smith, and Na Kim ‘Ministry of Graphic Design’ is a playfully contrived institution which encompasses six departments of offices each led by a different curatorial team that focus on various aspects of historical and contemporary graphic design. The ministry is inspired by the innovation-driven administrative structures of the UAE. “Sharjah and the UAE as a whole are very innovation-focused. They are looking at the future and that is important. Here is a place to think about the experimental edges of graphic design as a discipline and really look at how it bleeds into other areas. This biennial is past, present, and future. It is crucial to look at the past to understand where we are today and see the possibilities that exist in the future, ” says Prem Krishnamurthy.

The Department of Graphic Optimism looks back at the changing landscape of graphic design in the UAE since the country’s formation. Presented in this department are works from Hisham Almadhloum and archive materials from the early decades of the UAE. “In the early eighties when I was commissioned by Sheikh Mohammad Al-Qassimi to work on the Sharjah TV logo there were no digital software for design, it was all done by hand using letterset and gouache. Art and design have been the same discipline for me throughout the years and the thing that I love the most is that they are universal languages that communicate to all people”, says Hisham Almadhloum.

The ‘Ministry of Graphic Design’ with its unique departments and diverse curatorial selection takes the viewer on a rich visual journey and allows the opportunity to really consider how graphic design deeply impacts political, social, and cultural global narratives.

The Department of Graphic Optimism is headed by Alia Al-Sabi, The Department of Mapping Margins by Uzma Rizvi, The Department of Flying Saucers by Mobius Design Studio, The Department of Dematerialisations Language by Kith and Kin, The Department of Non-Binaries by Nina Paim and Corinne Gisel and the Office of the Archive by Tetsuya Goto.

The show is happening in the heart of Sharjah, Bank Street Sharjah Bank/el Seed Building from 9th November until 30th November.