Fifteen years with Grafist

04 May 2011
In honour of Grafist 15, Sadik Karamustafa shares his story of the inception and development of this international design week. Grafist 15 runs 2–7 May 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.

by Sadik Karamustafa (Turkey)

In honour of Grafist 15, Sadik Karamustafa shares his story of the inception and development of this international design week. Grafist 15 runs 2–7 May 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.


Between 1995 and 1999, I served as Vice-President on the Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) Executive Board. During those years I collaborated with the Israeli designer and educator David Grossman who had been the Treasurer and later became the President of the same board, in planning a project: Icograda Regional Design Education Collaboration Programme. We initiated this programme with the primary goal of enabling a meeting of designers, educators and graphic design students from neighbouring countries. As designers from developing countries, we had already been following design products and designers from the United States and European countries. However, we were unaware of the current situation in countries that were closest to us. Until then, we had listened with admiration to our colleagues from the USA, Japan, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Our gaze was undoubtedly directed towards the West.

We decided to hold the pilot project of the Regional Design Education Collaboration Programme in Israel and Turkey. Grossman had experience in the field having run, for the last three years, a design education event called Festivital, at the Vital Design School. He founded the school in Tel Aviv with his partner Yaki Molcho and offered courses in graphic design, illustration, photography and industrial design. Festivital had a programme of workshops led by internationally renowned guest designers exclusively for Vital students, and then seminars open to the general public.

 Poster for the ‘Istanbul as felt by’ exhibit, capturing former guests’ impressions of the city.

I proposed an international event in collaboration with Vital to my colleagues at the Graphics Department of Mimar Sinan University and the Turkish Society of Graphic Design, as part of the Icograda programme. My proposal was enthusiastically received and agreed upon. Our first activity was to go to Tel Aviv in February 1997 with a group of 11 students from various universities to participate in Festivital. The students were offered accommodation with the Israeli students in their homes and attended workshops led by Erik Spiekermann, Siobhan Keanay, Lawrence Zeegen and David Carson. We held the ‘Posters from Turkey’ exhibition in Tel Aviv, organised by the Turkish Society of Graphic Design. I also held a workshop where I had the opportunity to meet Israeli students, and I gave a speech at the Design Seminar. Since the Festivital program adjourned for Shabbat, a weekly national holiday in Israel, we spent Saturday visiting Jerusalem. The students who attended Festivital thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from the exchange. After 10 days of exhilarating new experiences and making new friends, we returned to Turkey to kick off the planning phase of our event in Istanbul.

Organising an international graphic design education event required know-how, experience and financial resources. We had very little know-how or experience; and literally no money. Our university’s resources were far from adequate. Nevertheless we wanted to realise this dream and believed that we could.

 Poster for Grafist '97

Icograda’s Executive Board chose a different city every three months to host their meeting and Istanbul was scheduled for Spring 1997. We approached this as a valuable opportunity and decided to hold the first Grafist/Istanbul International Graphic Design Week 4–9 April, the scheduled dates of the Icograda meeting. This allowed us to invite Icograda board members as guest speakers and conveniently save us transportation and accommodation fees. Aykut Köksal, Esen Karol, Paul McMillen (a long-time resident of İstanbul) and Yossi Lemel (who we met in Tel Aviv and volunteered to pay his own way) agreed to lead workshops. Bülent Erkmen and the photographer couple Barbara and Zafer Baran (who lived in the UK) contributed to the seminar as speakers. Four workshops were scheduled to run from Monday to Thursday and the final day was reserved for two seminars held at Mimar Sinan University and Marmara University. We also included an exhibition project curated by German designer Helmut Langer: Fax Posters Against Nuclear Trials. Twelve students from Israel attended the first Grafist and were given accommodation in our students’ homes. By very limited means we managed to organise the Istanbul International Graphic Design Week. The Grafist organisation became a model for all future Icograda regional design events, now held a few times every year across the world.

 Poster from last year's event

Grafist is now celebrating 15 years and has developed into a respected international graphic design education event. The Vital School Of Design founded by David Grossman and Yaki Molcho was merged with another state school and Festivital is, unfortunately, no longer organised. Grafist has drawn designers, design educators and students from around the world to visit Istanbul. Most of these ‘Grafist Generation’ students are now working as design professionals in Turkey and in the world.

Workshops

Those involved in graphic design education know the benefits of intensive workshops, seminars, debates, exhibitions and workplace visits that accompany a typical training programme. Schools often include such extra-curricular activities in their programme.

 Poster for third year of Grafist

Workshops are one of the fundamental building blocks of Grafist. In 15 years, around 2500 students received training in nearly 100 workshops. Initially, workshops were open to anyone who wished to attend. But in our third year, we were overwhelmed by a group of 90 students visiting from Lebanon—far more than the available space in our workshops. In response to increasing demand from the universities, we defined a limit of 20 people per workshop. Even then, we sometimes had more than 30 students attending a workshop—we never had the heart to turn anyone away.

We took care in distributing workshop participants among nationalities and schools. Our main objective was to give students an opportunity to interact with different cultures, overcome prejudices and enjoy working, learning and creating together.

The works created during these four days of workshops were, at first, exhibited and presented in classrooms. Interest in these presentations grew over the years and finally we could no longer fit inside the classrooms. Presentation are now held in the auditorium of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (MSFAU).

Seminars

 Poster from Grafist 7

The Sedat Hakkı Eldem Auditorium at MSFAU can seat 300 people. At the Grafist Seminar we welcome an audience of 400. Students, educators and professionals travel from Turkey and abroad to attend this seminar and fill the auditorium well beyond capacity. Well-known designers from around the world give speeches, show their works and share their experiences. Fukuda, Massin, Piippo, Tartakover, Erkmen, Loesch, Momayez, Altıntaş, Jordan, Troxler, Orosz, Madrelle, Boom, Beeke, Fletcher, Arvanitis, Logvin and many others have passed through this hall.

Exhibitions, projects

In fifteen years of Grafist, we have held exhibitions in numerous galleries for nearly 100 artists. Where workshops and seminars are compressed into a single week, the exhibits can spread over two weeks to a month and be enjoyed by a larger audience. We hosted exhibits such as the Korean Posters, Posters Commemorating the 50 Anniversary of Israel’s Founding, Posters of Faxes Against Nuclear Trials, Beer Mats, Packaging Design from Japan, Emigre, Five Polish Poster Designers along with many other personal shows. We held a commemorative exhibition entitled ‘Forget-me-not’ in honour of artists who had once been guests of Grafist and are no longer with us, like Alan Fletcher, Morteza Momayez and Shigeo Fukuda. Special exhibits were held for the works of Adrian Frutiger and Pierre Mendel who could not travel to Istanbul for heatlh reasons. The poster project entitled “İstanbul as felt by...” was organised in celebration of the 10 anniversary of Grafist and welcomed the contribution of all designers whose labour had been very much appreciated in the course of Grafist history.

Young designers and Grafist

 Poster from Grafist 11

We encourage young designers’ active participation in the Grafist programmes: to be more than spectators, to assume leading positions as creators and organisers. Our young colleagues lead the organisation of Grafist. Young professionals from many countries exhibit their projects in the ‘Next Generation’ programme and give presentations in seminars. Research assistants from various universities get the opportunity to assist the workshop leaders; they then return to share their experience at their respective institutions. Every year at least one young designers is given the chance to run a workshop. Finally, we always include young professionals from different countries when selecting guests to invite to Grafist.

Grafist’s guests

We aim to achieve a healthy balance of experiences, genders, countries and areas of expertise in our selection of guests; striving towards diversity by bringing together the young and the mature, women and men, neighbouring countries and distant lands, unknown and renowned designers in the same programme. We also take pains to include many fields of expertise like poster design, publication design, illustration, multimedia, design history and theory in our programme.

Grafist is an organisation based on the voluntary spirit. Those who work for Grafist do not receive any payment for the work they do. Our organisation covers travel, food and accommodation expenses for our travelling guest presenters, but we are unable to make any other payments of fees. Students cover their own travel and accommodation expenses, but workshop attendance remains free of charge.

Publications

 Poster from Grafist 5 in 2001

Grafist events are documented through publications which began as simple brochures and evolved into a book in 2001. The Grafist Book (15.5 x 23cm) is published every year in both Turkish and English and includes event information, the guest designers’ works and interviews held with them. The editing, design and production as well as the interviews are handled by our young colleagues. Alongside the Grafist books, a number of special publications including a brochure entitled “Packaging: Design For Sale”, a book “50 Questions, 50 Answers / An interview by e-mail with Rudy Vanderlans (Emigre)” and “Panic At Times of Getting Lost On the Streets” which was prepared by the students, were published during the years.

Grafist Archive

It’s become a celebrated tradition that our guest designers donate some of the works they bring to Istanbul to be exhibited. Thanks to this generous contribution from our guests, we are compiling a rich archive of graphic design which keeps growing both in size and diversity with the valuable addition of autographed books, correspondence, samples of handwriting, business cards, paper napkins with dinner-time scribblings, gifts, photographs and videos taken during Grafist activities, seminar records, and students’ works produced at the workshops. Some of the treasured items include the typographic installation created by Rene Knip for Grafist 12, Alan Fletcher’s original print, posters designed and printed by Fukuda and Kari Piippo for the special occasion of their visit to Istanbul, Alain Le Quernec’s giant sized posters and Andrey Logvin’s original sketches. Fifteen years of age, Grafist has already created a great deal of history.

How it’s done

 Poster from Grafist 13

Grafist is the first and only example of its kind in Turkey. Organising an international graphic design event is an expensive and laborious task that requires know-how and experience. Grafist’s organisers were aware of the challenges when they set off on this path. Nevertheless, they were resolved to raise the quality of graphic design education, and contribute towards design students’ and young professionals’ experiences in building relationships with the rest of the world.

All of Grafist’s expenditure have been met through sponsorship. We’ve been supported by enterprises and private persons. No financial contributions were demanded from the participating students or their universities. The hosting university MSFAU assigned its studios, exhibition and conference halls for our use. Among the collaborating institutions, Icograda, AGI / Alliance Graphique Internationale, Turkish Society of Graphic Design, Bikem Özsunay Graphic Design Foundation, Dutch Consulate of Istanbul are especially noteworthy for their valuable support.

The Future of Graphic Design Education

In 2000, Icograda published the Icograda Design Education Manifesto (PDF) which redefined the concepts of graphic design, designer and design education. While organising Grafist and creating the programme, we remain mindful of the definitions and principles stated in the manifesto. In closing, we think it would be beneficial to remind ourselves once again the section in the manifesto regarding education:

(future of design education)

The new design program includes the following dimensions:
    image, text, movement, time, sound and interactivity.

Design education should focus on critical mentality combined with tools to communicate.

It should nurture a self-reflective attitude and ability.

The new program should foster strategies and methods for communication and collaboration.

Theory and design history should be an integral part of design education.

Design research should increase the production of design knowledge in order to enhance design performance through understanding cognition and emotion, physical and social and cultural human factors.

More than ever, design education must prepare students for change. To this end, it must move from being teaching-centered to a learning-centered environment which enables students to experiment and to develop their own potential in and beyond academic programs.

Thus the role of design educator shifts from that of only knowledge provider to that of a person who inspires and facilitates orientation for a more substantial practice.


Contributed by Sadik Karamustafa, former Icograda Executive Board member 1995–1999. Sadik teaches at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University.