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Farzad Adibi, Roar of Silent / Khorosh E Khamosh / A Glimps on Farzad Adibi‘s Graphic Art Works, 2007, © Farzad Adibi
Maps of Revolution, curated, compiled and translated by Alexander Cyrus Poulikakos, Niloofar Rasooli and an:r anonymous collaborator:in.
Content creators remain anonymous in Iran, December 2022, © Alexander Cyrus Poulikakos, Niloofar Rasooli.

In this country, news from the Islamic Republic of Iran usually deals with political protests and their suppression, uranium enrichment, nuclear agreements and Western sanctions. In Central Europe, it is rare to hear about design from Iran. Now the exhibition “Visual Poetry – Contemporary Posters from Iran” at the Zurich Museum of Design presents current Iranian graphic design from July 21 to October 29 in the Toni-Areal. The exhibition aims to show how designers combine an unorthodox interpretation of Persian cultural heritage with contemporary trends in international graphic design.

The current Iranian graphic design is relatively young. The first designers received a free artistic education in the 1960s. The political and economic opening of the country to the West also promoted global cultural exchange. The proclamation of the Islamic Republic in 1979 marked a break, which was further intensified by the First Gulf War. At the end of the 1980s, a new generation of designers took up the graphic heritage of the pre-war period, and at the turn of the millennium, Iranian posters conquered international festivals and caused a great stir in the Western community.

As versatile as the design approaches are, they always manifest “the search for a fusion of history and contemporaneity, one’s own tradition and Western inspiration, art and everyday culture,” write the curators. Culture plays an important role in the artistic self-image of Iranian graphic artists: “While the cityscape is characterized by commercial advertising spaces and state propaganda, cultural posters hang in protected interiors and specifically address a culturally interested, educated audience. The color, calligraphy and graphic language of the posters often reveal whether the focus is on the city’s own cultural heritage or on contemporary, urban art.”

The “often symbolically encoded, poetic visual language” of the posters, according to the announcement, “breaks through cultural and political restrictions of the system. Some posters seem to confirm common Western notions of Islamic aesthetics, while others radically undermine them and irritate and surprise our gaze. They are always to be understood as a medium that resists the regime’s power to define its own heritage.” The current situation in Iran, with ongoing protests against a deeply repressive regime, is also illuminated in the poster medium. The collection of the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich has a significant stock of Iranian posters, which has recently been enriched by around 200 works from the last 20 years.

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