NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 33


Totally Iranian; The 5th Color Iranian Typography Exhibitions

Behzad Motebaheri

What is typography? Now, barely anyone bothers to find an answer to this question. Typo-graphy exists; it is justified and legitimate, and is used as an approach and method for creating works of graphic design. However, things were not the same in the winter of 2003. The Blind Owl, the first Iranian typo-graphy exhibition, mounted in the Seyhoun Gallery, displayed both the posters of supporters and critics of typography in an inconsistent way. In the preface to the exhibition’s book, its organizer, The Fifth Color, tries to conceal — or understate — its sinful desire towards typography and to act as an external, neutral observer. It finally admits that “The Blind Owl is a pretext for dealing with Persian typography.”
Previously, in the first exhibition’s book The First Block, The Fifth Color tried to explain the reasons for choosing the poster as its medium. The poster is a context “in which a graphic designer can demonstrate all he /she is capable of.” Hence, it is an instrument for artistic and technical parade and “[ … ] indeed, poster embodies the very essence, the distinctions, and the characteristics.” It therefore contains the components of self-expression.
It seems that in the early 2000s, nothing was more obvious than such combinations of media and method. In a more open society than ever, businesses began to thrive, many visual communication graduates began their profes-sional activity, and Iranian typographical graphic designs earned universal admiration and captured attention like a newly discovered, strange, and mysterious phenomenon. More importantly, graphic designers were no longer unknown techni-cians serving marketing communi-cations or disseminating the arts. There were ambitious, progressive, and even famous authors and artists. The necessity to express oneself made graphic designers undermine the authority of the client and “invent” events such as Iranian typography. Posters were the right medium and typography was the right method for organizing this piled, erupting energy.
The Blind Owl was an invitational event, and thus its organizers and participants were faced with common professional constraints and personal considerations. With a few exceptions, it was nothing more than an inconsistent, mediocre show of extremist formalism, devoid of meaning; clichéd thinking with the absolute absence of the aesthetic elements of Persian typography. Revealing technical weaknesses, the inability to understand fundamental concepts of typography, perplexity facing technology, and finally, lack of creative thinking — this exhibition demonstrated turmoil of transition into a new era of graphic design and the necessity to revise the profession from both practical and theoretical aspects.
Two years after The Blind Owl, Molavi exhibition, The Second Typography Exhibition was mounted in the Iranian Artists Forum with a public call for posters. Even though The Fifth Color evaded defining what it called “Iranian typography” and contented itself with demystifying the nature of typography, it introduced calligraphy as the main feature of the “Iranian style,” proposing “the distinctiveness of [ Persian ] handwriting in the Iranian culture”: “[ … ] Iranian style’s features, which are introduced to the graphic design world in recent years, are typography and Persian letters.”

Molavi and the next exhibitions, Iranian Proverbs and Ferdowsi’s Shahnama, which were held in 2006 and 2008 in the Tehran Gallery ( and simultaneously in Isfahan and Shiraz ), and in the Iranian Artists Forum, respectively, provided an appropriate thematic context for the expression of the Iranian style. Moreover, the title The Blind Owl, which coincidentally referred to the most exemplary work of modern Iranian fiction, had a meaningful correlation with two prominent Iranian works / poets and the Iranian proverbs.
After that disappointing beginning, the works mounted in these exhibitions belonged to younger artists, which were mainly students of the organizers. Thanks to the more up - to - date training, access to the Internet, and foreign written resources, they negated the dominant discourse of Iran’s graphic design, desacralized the transcendental illusionary matter, and questioned the fetishism of the established ideas and names. This pluralism and decentralization was accompanied by hesitation in the unquestioned professional principles, the return to tradition /origins, the study of the domestic identification components, and the emergence of interdisciplinary disciplines such as primitive art, conceptual art, and staged photography. Breaking down calligraphic structures, merging the photographic organism with text, and employing obsolete, manual procedures gave a new concepttual and formal flavor to typography ( and Iranian graphic design ). The series of three final exhibitions, with their ebbs and flows, display the graphic designers’ approach towards the themes before them; its ebb being Iranian Proverbs and its high being Ferdowsi’s Shahnama.
Although this conclusion may seem exaggerated, events such as Iranian typography reduced ‘graphic design’ to an instrument for expressing the individuality of the graphic designer, in the period when graphic design was mostly in need of theoretical explanation and establishment as an independent profession. Hence, the objective, process, and product of design were equaled by art. Apart from identity and function aversion, the focus on small and independent cultural-artistic projects and media, such as posters and covers, led to the unbalanced development of graphic design types and media.
However, what particularly distanced Iranian typography from its mission and turned it into its own opposite was avoiding the things which propagated it: theoretical formation, a proactive approach, experimentalism, and revolutionary perspective. “This text is not going to […] judge what happens under the title of typography or within its scope.” This was an example of the writings The Fifth Color published in books and calls for posters — aiming not to obtain theoretical formation, but to avoid it. Also in practice, despite the absence of constraining and inhibiting elements, Iranian typography only realized a part of Persian typography’s potential that was previously considered as “standard’ in the Iranian graphic design arena. This event could be inspiring, encouraging, and compeling, but it became a display window for prepossessions.
Iranian typography was The Fifth Color’s most important achievement — they moved along with each other, yet did not reach their destination. Both were left unfinished.

Behzad Motebaheri

born in 1984, is a Tehran-based creative director, copywriter and graphic designer. He holds a bachelor in visual communications from Faculty of Fine Arts, Tehran University. Due studying he began his career as a freelancer till graduation while he joined two advertising agencies Eshareh and Resaneh Khallagh as an art director/copywriter and creative director and worked for a diverse range of marketing communication and branding projects for local and international brands, including Nestle, Henkel, Garnier, Saman Bank, Golestan, Drajeh and Sehawi. Recently he founded his own studio, specializing in concept development, branding and creative writing.

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