How I almost organized an all-male panel
… which transformed into a badass feminist program!
This year will be the second edition of the graphic design festival Fig. in Liège, Belgium, initiated by four graphic designers, from the studios Please let me design and Signes du quotidien, who invited me to join the organisation of this second edition in the making.
Parallel to setting up more classical formats (exhibition, screening, conferences, workshops, pop-up bookshop), we are benefitting from the relatively small scale of this young festival to experiment and question what should be a graphic design festival today. At the level of the contents, the program, as well as that of the organisation of the festival itself: how to make it open, and be transparent about the way we organise it? what place to give to its different components? how to remunerate (in an equal way) our guests, while the job of graphic designer becomes more and more precarious and questions of economy are often taboo? … questions that we rarely see addressed in graphic design events, and we feel it is time to address.
One of the questions that challenged the organisation of this edition is that of gender representations in graphic design.
I am quite implicated in feminist question in my practice, but since I had only recently joined the organisation, along the way, I wanted to wait and see before proposing feminist topics. Especially since the first edition of the festival programmed a conference by Anaïs Bourdet, a very engaged feminist graphic designer. The question actually “imposed” itself in the last months of the organisation of the festival.
For different reasons, we ended up with an almost all-male panel — a program of conference composed of only male speakers. The issue was raised inside the team, but without answer — I must say that we were in a rush — and without insistence from my part. The topic came back when someone else proposed to make a lunch on feminism and graphic design: a sort of “focus girls and graphic design”. I could then take this opportunity to come back on our all-male panel situation. I answered that it was a bit ironic to program only male designers in the festival and on the side organise a lunch to talk about women in the field of graphic design, and if we wanted to talk about feminism we should take it more seriously… With this reaction I knew I was risking to be labelled as the annoying-never-happy-feminist (feminist killjoy). But it didn’t happen (❤ my colleagues of the Fig!) and it actually received an attention that went beyond my hopes. Some of us in the team never thought about these questions, and proposed to work on this issue in making it public, scheduling a discussion and a specific program with new guests.
We could have simply invited more women and spread them in the different conference evenings. We actually contacted two at the beginning of the organisation of the festival, who were not available, and we of course had other ideas. But since we wanted to talk more specifically about gender representations and feminism, we decided to invite people (not necessarily determined by their gender) who worked with such topics in the field of graphic design.
We have thus re-worked the schedule of the festival, in emergency, to make space for this question as a central and urgent one.
From an almost all-male panel, we turned the situation into a program much more inclusive in terms of gender, with a day specifically focussed on feminist approaches of graphic design, including a round table on gender representations in the field of graphic design, with four guests and an additional series of three lectures.
This Saturday 3d of February 2018, Sara De Bondt we tell us about a data-visualisation project made with Thomas Humeau and Merel van den Berg; Roxanne Maillet will present an inclusive type design work, made during a workshop around a zine bringing together insurrectional LGBTQI+ texts; Hélène Mourrier will tell us about her transfeminist approach to graphic design; Marine Poyard will show us a series of pedagogical tools she made to “de-naturalise” visual communication; with contributions by the Swedish collective MMS, the German group behind the new project notamuse and the filmmaker Briar Levit, whose movie Graphic Means will be presented in the festival… during a program of presentations and a round table animated by Axelle Minne, specialised in feminist topics in the cultural field, an all the team of the festival.
Together we will gather a series of tools for more inclusive representations — in the organisation of events around graphic design and in the practice itself — and maybe a toolkit for the future!
Fig Fierce Feminist·e Flag
The image above is my contribution for the exhibition Flig Flag presented in the festival, before our discussions on gender inside the festival. I presented it with the following text:
Fig Fierce Feminist·e Flag is part of a joyful feminist infiltration strategy, which aims at taking any occasion of public expression (conferences, exhibitions, workshops, publications…) to raise political questions linked to gender representations.
Fig Fierce Feminist·e Flag takes the invitation to produce a flag for a graphic design festival as a way to explore its political potentials:
– the flag affirms the term feminist design in the hope that this approach will be more present in the graphic design landscape;
– it could be reused as a banner in protests or to mark one’s engagement — the questions of design, pride and fierceness still concerning many feminist fights today;
– it refers and is a tribute to the lesbian collective fierce pussy, active since 1991 in the fight against AIDS, through their amazing graphic design work, unfortunately forgotten in the graphic design history.
Loraine Furter, version 0.1, 30 January 2018.
Loraine Furter is a graphic designer, a teacher and a member of the collective Just for the record which works on gender representations in cyberspace with an intersectional and inclusive feminist perspective.