In 1979, the United States held its first international poster exhibition. That same year militants stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Over the past three decades, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran have been virtually non-existent—until now. The Obama Administration has promised to keep an open dialogue with Iran, amidst growing tension over its nuclear ambitions. As such, Iran makes regular appearances in American news media.
Last September, designer Majid Abbasi traveled from Tehran to Fort Collins, Colorado, as the honor laureate for the sixteenth Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition (CIIPE) at Colorado State University. He brought years of rich Persian history to an audience who knew little of Iran beyond sanctions, nuclear programs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“My presence as a judge was more distinctive than ever,” Abbasi said, who found both students and designers unfamiliar with Iranian graphic design. “Representing a country that tops the news of the day was both interesting for me and for the audience. This is why I dedicated my time there to introduce Iran’s history of art, culture and civilization, its roots of visual language and the influence of art, before and after Islam, on the works by contemporary Iranian graphic designers.”
In addition to exhibiting his own posters and book cover designs, Abbasi organized Persianissimo, an exhibition of 28 posters by 28 contemporary Iranian graphic designers.
“Majid is a gifted communicator and a wonderful guest,” offered John Gravdahl, professor of graphic design and co-director of CIIPE. “He approached his first visit to the United States with good humor, an open mind and an open heart. As an educator he was able to thoughtfully express his opinions concerning the history of graphic design in his country and the current cultural environment in Iran. His audience was impressed by his humanity. Many of them only know of Iran through news reports and images of the turmoil last summer. The satellite exhibition of his work and the broad range of subjects it addresses offered a meaningful educational alternative to that source, ‘not what I expected’ was a common positive response.
“It was an excellent example of how graphic design can reflect and communicate many layers of our experience.”
The statement expressly echoes the intent of CIIPE since its inception: presenting students, designers and the community with a first-person encounter with great poster art from around the world. “Our selection of exhibition judges, and of Mr. Majid Abbasi for the sixteenth show, is a vital contribution to this effort,” added Gravdahl.
While Abbasi is no stranger to being a member of an international jury, the CIIPE granted him a new experience altogether—as the sole judge. “This situation gave me a different sense of evaluation. At first sight, evaluating work as a judge seemed to be easy and straightforward because I did not have to argue and discuss with people of different opinions and points of view. But I noticed that I needed to undergo this argument in order to reach clear results for decision-making. So the kind of argument that normally takes two or three days as a group, took me about a fortnight,” he admitted.
“My criteria for choosing the most prominent works were: making successful communication with the audience and high-quality design. (However, the invitational structure of this exhibition did not lend itself to discovering young talents and supporting them; it was an assembly of the best professionals.) Having taken into account all of the discussed factors of evaluation criteria, I chose three posters for the first to third ranks and seven honorary diplomas.
“The selected works were: Requiem by Uwe Loesch (Germany) for displaying a gloomy and straightforward image of the conditions of the poor in rich countries who are being robbed by financial and capitalistic corporations; Beautiful Appearances, Ralph Schraivogel’s poster (Switzerland), for its wise look and skillful combination of type at different visual layers; and Leonardo Sonnoli’s Fifteen posters in fifteen meters (Italy) for its masterful quest in the field of typography and its special attention to form and content.”
“For the first time in the exhibition’s history,” co-director Phil Risbeck explained, “the 16th CIIPE was presented at a single venue, the new University Museum of Art.” Its location emphasized that this was a cohesive collection—82 artists from 28 countries—of changing social, cultural and political viewpoints. ca