13 November 2006
Andrew Lewis
Andrew Lewis

Iyama Koji, Japan. Series: (left) Mordaza [Gag] and P rpado [Lid], Third Place, Posters Against Impunity. 28 3/4 x 40 1/2, plotter.

Flying into Mexico City, the world's largest, sprawling metropolis, I always get an uncanny sensation that something big is going to happen. On the way to the hotel, a taxi driver proudly states that the population is now somewhere between 30 and 40 million people, which is larger than Canada. Since 1989, the International Biennial of the Poster in Mexico has taken place here. It has become home to not only an astounding exhibition, but an experience to ignite the soul on many levels.

Mexico City has an unbound cultural energy that lives in her people through architecture, music, art and food and slowly seeps into their hearts and minds. Within a culturally-rich backdrop, international perspectives on human rights, environmentalism, social justice, peace and consumerism took center stage. Organized by Trama Visual and endorsed by Icograda, the 8th International Poster Biennial in Mexico featured posters from 145 graphic designers in 35 countries, selected from approximately 5,000 entries. Held in Mexico City s historical district, at the Franz Mayer Museum from October 22, 2004 through January 7, 2005, it is the largest international poster exhibition of its kind.

Opening night at the Museum was a stunning spectacle with over 300 pieces presented; posters with commercial, cultural and social content, selected from young students to revered design icons, such as Milton Glaser, were displayed side by side on the museum walls.

Speaking of the event, director Xavier Burmudez, said, "For two months, there is the opportunity to review and analyze selected posters by designers from 35 countries. Asians, Finns, French, Latin Americans, Mexicans, North Americans and Poles hold a dialogue taken from the poster. These participants enrich our culture with ideas engendered from their needs for peace, consumption, recreation and artistic activity...Posters imagined from their way of life and manners of understanding their own realities."

Regarding the selection process, juror Bojidar Ikonomov of Bulgaria, director of the International Triennial of the Stage Poster, Bulgaria, said, "I cannot accept posters that are only a display or form, a fashionable design, but that lack content and have nothing to say. The poster is, first of all, a way of thinking. It should surprise, challenge and intrigue us. Although sometimes it looks like a sign, it should also be a symbol; it should possess a depth and a second plan. It should make us think! "

Two posters that did just that were Alain Le Quernec s ALQ 2 and Chaz Maviyane-Davies s Eject poster. The solo exhibition poster by Le Quernec, a French designer, was an ode to early French (des affiche) poster masters, illustrating his respect for this medium and its history, while presenting it in a fresh way. On the eve of the U.S. Presidential election, Maviyane-Davies s Eject poster provided timely political commentary, graphically combining the issue of voting and his personal opinion of Mr. Bush. Maviyane-Davies, a recent emigr from Zimbabwe to the United States, brought his experience of political apathy to the forefront via his posters.

Posters Against Impunity
The Biennial presented designers with an opportunity to create a visual response to a theme, and last year it was Posters Against Impunity. The selected posters were a powerful, diverse collection of ideas that dealt with this increasing global issue. In particular, Japanese designer Iyama Koji s posters Lid and Gag subtly spoke of the perpetual cycle of silence the victims of impunity must endure. In contrast, many designers from M xico felt compelled to create a visceral response to the recent, horrific murders of 300 women in the northern city of Ju rez. The graphic posters made their impact, and were extraordinarily relevant to this exhibition.

Designers have a global connection, a universal vocabulary that communicates through the poster. And with it comes responsibility.

The International Festival of Design and the Arts, Xalapa
Following the Biennial opening in M xico City, the organizers, the jury and selected country guests (from Latin America), traveled 250 miles east to the historic city of Xalapa. Home to a half-million people and the University of Veracruz s main campus as well as several important research centers, Xalapa is a lively intellectual and cultural center, and its atmosphere created a perfect setting for the Festival s conferences and workshops.

The next four days were broken into three parts: the morning conference featured keynote speakers (Alessandra Migani, David Consuegra, Julian Naranjo, Pablo Kunst, Tapani Aartomaa, Patricia Hordo ez, Santiago Pol, Ronaldo Shakespear, Carlos Palleiro, Alessandro Manetti, Bojidar Ikonomov, Marta Granados and Felipe Taborda) presenting their work; the late afternoon workshops, given by selected jurors and guest speakers, were held at various Instituto de Artes Pl sticas (Institute of the Plastic Arts) studios; and then it was on to evening events, both solo and group exhibitions, eighteen in all. Daily three-hour workshops addressed not only poster design, but provided each lecturer the opportunity to speak of his or her country s cultural and design communities. Most valuable was the interaction between the over 2,000 attending designers, educators and students revealing some differences, but often surprisingly, similarities no matter which country was called home.

An example of cultural differences was revealed by Venezuela s Santiago Pol. He presented a collection of hand-painted street graphics from his country, colorfully advertising a range of services from home appliances to the curious, and disturbing, half-chicken, half-cow poster. This he explained was meant to entice people to try this new form of fast food called Cowicken. Other presentations were equally enlightening and inspiring, especially Argentina s Ronaldo Shakespear. His amazing life history included hanging out with Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles, while at the same time building Dise o Shakespear, one of the leading design firms in Buenos Aires today.

The scale of the Festival was huge, its impact immense. Designers were able to share their sources of inspiration for the poster as a communication tool, well beyond the exhibition. El Fabulosos Cartel, Ol !

As expected, something big did happen. "The International Poster Biennial of M xico is the most important professional event in the Western Hemisphere," said Phil Risbeck, co-founder and co-director of the Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition, "because it taps into and reveals for the entire world the creative reservoirs of all countries in North, Central and South America. Mexico City truly is the cultural capital of the Americas at this time." (Viva Mexico! Viva the poster!)

About this article

Reprinted with permission by Communication Arts, 2005 Coyne & Blanchard, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally published in the March/April 2005 issue of Communication Arts.