By Maha Alsharif


Bank of Sharjah / eLseed Building, Sharjah, UAE - site of Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 01: Ministry of Graphic Design (2018).

UAE-born graphic design studio, Fikra, presents the inaugural Fikra Graphic Design Biennial. Titled “Ministry Of Graphic Design”, the Biennial displays old, new, and experimental applications and possibilities of graphic design for local, regional, and international audiences. While concepts of art and design often overlap on the commercial end, this particular exhibit aims to distinguish graphic design as a specialised discipline that aids communication and accessibility. The Biennial skis away from the commercial stigma attached to graphic design, and instead opens a dialogue addressing the role, value, and impact of graphic design in global contemporary culture and what it will mean in the future.

The fictional Ministry Of Graphic Design, that is housed in the heart of Sharjah on Bank Street, suggests a systematic body that is at the core of the industry, leading and supporting local and international innovations and relations. Therefore, the Biennial simply presents curated concurrent exhibitions spread throughout the building, in the form of six departments (Department of Graphic Optimism, Department of Dematerialising Language, Department of Non-Binaries, Department of Flying Saucers, Department of Mapping Margins, and Office of The Archive).

Installation view: Alexandra Bell, "A Teenager With Promise (Annotated)", 2017, Inkjet on Bond Paper. © Alexandra Bell.

Instead of showing the finished graphics product that we have become accustomed to, the majority of the works are presented in an ‘ongoing process’ fashion. It is an interesting approach, as it gives a glimpse to what goes on behind the scenes, offers a new understanding to how we have subconsciously become conditioned to absorb and respond to graphic design, and in turn, opens space for a constructive dialogue between the designers and viewers. As seen in Alexandra Bell’s “A Teenager With Promise” (2017), where Bell displays a blown-up image of a New York Times article, that is gradually altered to offer an alternative critical meaning.

Detail: Seendosi, "Eight Coloured Beads", 2018, LED Mirror Balls, Carpet, Stencil on Wall.

The biennial also showcases diverse applications in graphic design. Many graphic design components and applications often go unnoticed, especially in urban environments, and they are made apparent throughout the exhibit. Seendosi’s installation “Eight Coloured Beads” (2018) purposefully isolates LED mirror balls and graphic carpets in a dim room to bring attention to graphic design’s relationship with technology as well as traditional media present in civic culture.

Installation view: Moniker, "Dazzle Fungus, 2018,Vinyl Stickers (Image captured on 11 November 2018).

Last but not least, the Biennial makes a point to reflect on the role of the viewer in the process.  In Moniker’s interactive experience “Dazzle Fungus” (2018), visitors are instructed to use striped square and triangle vinyl stickers to create graphic shapes. Free as can be, visitors have the opportunity to personalise simple shapes and construct meaningful aesthetics.


“Ministry of Graphic Design” is more conceptual than anticipated, however it brings forward a unique view to graphic design, through the eye of the designer. It does not claim to be comprehensive, conclusive, nor prescriptive, but rather raises awareness to the process, role, value, and impact of graphic design in everyday life.

The biennial continues until 30 November 2018. 

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