No to boycotts !
September 1, 2009
Several people have asked me about my opinion about the 10th Tehran International Poster Biennial 2009, which has become an object of controversy among graphic designers within and outside of Iran.
A call to boycott the Biennial has been published in Facebook. The international graphic designers association AGI has published a carefully worded news item, signed by Ralph Schraivogel, whose intent supports a boycott. The restrained language is understandable as AGI would probably not want to obstruct an event presided by another AGI member, Ghobad Shiva.
The proponents of a boycott argue that a participation in the Biennial, either by sending a poster or as a jury member, would be a support of the Iranian Governement and it's suppression of the demonstrations after the elections of June 12, 2009.
The organizers of the Biennial have responded that "no governmental system has interference in these biennial unless they violate Islamic rules". Graphic designer Alain Le Quernec has explained in an interview in the french graphic design magazine "etapes" that the boycott is not directed against the iranian governement but against the change in responsability for the organisation of the Biennial.
The control over the 10. Biennial is a complex issue, involving a power struggle between two different iranian graphic design associations and other institutions, but also including questions about the role of graphic design and it's history in Iran, financial support, personality conflicts, religious and political considerations, fear of repression, pride, expectations for fairness and recognition, confusion, hurt feelings, idealism and probably more factors that remain hidden to an outsider. To reduce the situation to the simplistic formula "boycott the Biennial to support the iranian freedom fighters" is clearly wrong, in my opinion.
How the iranian graphic designers deal with their governement, or the graphic design organisations claiming to represent them, is best left to them to decide. But if graphic designers outside Iran now boycott the Biennial and break off communication, the lifetime achievment of the great Morteza Momayez and his colleagues to make iranian graphic design an equal and respected member of the international community is in shambles.
Morteza Momayez was well aware of the necessity of international contacts. At the start of his campaign to open iranian graphic design to the world, he wrote, in 2001:
I am therefore convinced that the memory of Morteza Momayez is better served by keeping his spirit alive rather than seeking confrontation, and I do not support a boycott of the 10th Tehran International Poster Biennial 2009.
I wish I could spend my time writing about posters rather than poster politics, and hope to remain on speaking terms with all involved, in particular the iranian graphic designers, the largest group of readers of Posterpage. I also think that we are better off "concentrating on what unites us, and not on what divides us", as I have said in my recent speech at the Tehran Contemporary Museum of Art.