Modernizing the Middle East

Fikra converts abandoned bank into ground-breaking graphic design event

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The first Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, titled Ministry of Graphic Design is currently being held at the United Arab Emirates' Bank of Sharjah building. (Courtesy Fikra)
The first Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, titled Ministry of Graphic Design is currently being held at the United Arab Emirates' Bank of Sharjah building. (Courtesy Fikra)

The inaugural Fikra Graphic Design Biennial, the first biennial on the topic in the Middle East, is currently being held in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The event showcases the collaborative work of hundreds of designers, industry leaders, and institutions from over 20 countries that provide visitors with a glimpse of some of the most inventive and revolutionary graphic design projects in the Middle East.

The event space is in the historic Bank of Sharjah building located in a well-known modernist block in Sharjah that was built in the 1970s. Dubai-based T.ZED Architects was commissioned to renovate multiple floors of the block’s long-abandoned bank in order to house the Biennial. The architectural firm preserved and restored many of the antiquated features and remains of the bank through the process, contributing to the exhibition’s unconventional approach. Despite the recent face-lift, the Ministry of Graphic Design will be the building’s last tenant before it is demolished in the coming months.

Photo of the Bank of Sharjah building

Dubai-based T.ZED Architects was commissioned to renovate multiple floors of the block’s long-abandoned Bank of Sharjah building in order to house the Ministry of Graphic Design. (Courtesy Fikra)

The event is organized by Fikra, the Sharjah-founded graphic design studio that acts as a global stage for artists, architects, and designers in the Middle East, encouraging them to join the global design conversation, collaborate with one another, and analyze the ways in which graphic design transforms the rapidly evolving world of the 21st century.

The exhibition’s artistic directors, Na Kim, Prem Krishnamurthy, and Emily Smith, developed a fictitious organization dubbed the Ministry of Graphic Design to structure the show. They describe the Ministry as a “playfully formulated but serious-minded pop-up institution” dedicated to promoting dialogue, research, and understanding within the local, regional, and international graphic design community.

Mirroring the hierarchical governmental structure of the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry is composed of six different departments, each one touching on a different feature of historic or modern graphic design. The departments are headed by a diverse team of curators, and each leader is accountable for the content and contributions of its exhibitions. Among them are the Department of Mapping Margins, the Department of Graphic Optimism, the Department of Non-Binaries, the Department of Flying Saucers, the Department of Dematerializing Language, and the Office of the Archive.

The Fikra Graphic Design Biennial is open now through November 30.

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