Designer/illustrator Mirko Ilić is a man with a mission. Currently he has curated two touring poster shows on the subjects of political dissent and social tolerance, featuring work from the international design community. He has been traveling extensively in support of both.
The first is “The Design of Dissent,” created with Milton Glaser. Originally displayed in 2005 at School of Visual Arts in NYC, it was accompanied by coffee table book published by Rockport Publishers. Earlier this year the duo produced an expanded edition of both the book and exhibit, bringing the political content up to date. Thus far the new exhibit has visited Bucharest, Romania; Breda, Netherlands and Seattle, WA. His other show “Tolerance” has exhibited across the world.
I recently interview Mirko about these shows and his role in their creation.
You currently have two politically charged posters shows touring internationally, “Tolerance” and “Design of Dissent.” How did they both come about and what is the difference between the two?
In 2005, I co-authored with Milton Glaser The Design of Dissent book. One part of the work for the book came from my collection. The other part was physical submissions by the artists. In the end, after the book was published I ended up with around 200 pieces of art from around the world in my possession. Having that art just laying around, I decided to make use of it, so I suggested to the School of Visual Arts to have a show Design of Dissent. SVA was very happy to do it. I called a few more artists to send me their work to fill in the gaps in the collection I had. Once I had the show together, I decided to create a traveling show, which travelled from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Virginia Commonwealth University in Doha, Quatar. After that, I donated the entire show to the SVA Archive.
This year, Milton and I published an expanded edition of The Design of Dissent and I asked the artists not only to submit electronic files of their work, but physical ones too, because I immediately had a show in mind. So far the combined work from 2005 and 2017 was shown in Seattle (USA), Breda (Holland) and Bucharest (Romania), and I’m sure it’s going to travel to a few more places soon.
The Tolerance traveling poster show is a totally different story. In Eastern Europe, I helped organize a few Jewish film festivals. One of them is in Ljubljana, Slovenia and it’s called House of Tolerance. The city of Ljubljana offered me a small square and asked us to create some kind of show there. I think they originally thought I would exhibit some of my work, but I came up with an idea to create the Tolerance poster show. I decided to ask 24 world renowned artists like Paula Scher, Milton Glaser, Peter Bankov, Micahel Bouvet, Manuel Estrada, Jinxing Hi, David Tartakover, etc. My only requirement from them was to write on the poster the word Tolerance in their native language and everything else was up to them. Amazingly, everyone accepted the invitation and in less than a month I had a show. Because the show was just sent electronically to Ljubljana and they printed it out on the spot, it was extremely cheap to produce. That gave me an idea, why not create out of this a traveling show adding new posters to it and also asking well known artists from that area to give a local flavor to the show. My only requirement was that the show needs to be exhibited in public spaces, like college campuses, malls, parks, etc., outside of museums and galleries so people can see it.
You have been traveling internationally in support of these shows. What is your sense of the overseas reaction to Trump and our current situation here?
Very often, I’m asked to give a lecture at different universities and events, mostly about social and political issues. For example, my lecture about the Neo-Nazi iconography called Symbols of Hate. Then I use that occasion to suggest to them to have a show. Otherwise, most of the shows are happening without me being present. [The weekend of December 8-10, there were] three shows opening simultaneously, one of them in Novi Sad, Serbia and it is going be opened by Kyle Scott, US Ambassador to Serbia, Dalibor Rozic, Secretary for Culture of the City of Novi Sad, Slavimir Stojanovic, author of one of the posters and Jelena Banjac, an art historian.
Trump is a tough cookie to explain. I will go in countries where the government is dictatorship-light and they would ask me What is wrong with you guys? How did this happen? What are you gonna do about it?, and it’s not easy to answer.
Any thoughts on the power of images and whether they can actually effect change?
Images are obviously very powerful, that’s why everybody’s trying to control them. That’s why we have stylists, make-up artists, censorship on media and social media, and it’s spreading further, it’s even reaching college campuses. Look what is happening at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.
They tried to force the University to censure the art of the students just because they don’t like their point of view. Or in quite a few countries you can still be arrested for displaying a rainbow flag. Obviously, what the rainbow flag represents is a too powerful image for them to allow to exist. First rainbows, what is next? Unicorns?
How do you view the political role of designers?
Designers are firstly humans / citizens and then designers. Hopefully, one day when they stop being designers they’re still going to be humans. Hopefully they’re not gonna sell their soul in the process. Designers and artists understand the power of an image, because of that they have an additional duty to use it, but use it wisely.