Robert L. Peters

3 October 2008

Respect | Rajie Cook

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New York, USA

I met Dana Bartelt by chance on an airport shuttle bus to downtown Prague in June of 2002, during my first year as Icograda president. Two days later we crossed paths again at the Icograda Identity/Integrity Conference in Brno, Czech Republic, held in conjunction with the 20th Brno Biennale. Dana handed me a disk of images from Don’t Say You Didn’t Know/Posters for Palestine, an initiative she had spearheaded using propaganda art to shed light on the sustained (some would say nefarious) support the U.S. provides to Israel in its ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and its oppression of the Palestinian people. Among the images in the collection, Rajie Cook’s The Star stood out for the power and clarity of its statement re: organized Zionism as an internal force in American political life… a topic often considered taboo (and quick to trigger accusations of Antisemitism).

Here’s a snip about Rajie from The Electronic Intifada: “Born in 1930, Palestinian-American artist Rajie Cook has had a very successful career in graphic design. The ‘Symbol Signs’ that hang in airports internationally, communicating purely through icons rather than text, were designed by Cook and his design firm. He has been honored by President Reagan and the ‘Symbols Signs’ project has been acquired into the Smithsonian’s collection. However, Cook is not done creating work that intends to communicate. Born in the United States to parents originally from Palestine, the violence and continued injustice that consume his homeland spurs him to make Joseph Cornell-inspired boxes that comment upon various aspects of the conflict…” Read more about Rajie’s passionate work here, and visit his website to see more of his assemblages and posters here.

Poster images: The Star (1996) and The Dollar (2007), both © Rajie Cook.


1 October 2008

On this day…

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Lucknow, India

Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi was born 139 years ago—on the eve of the anniversary of his birth, Indian children dressed as the Mahatma pose for photos. On 15 June of last year the United Nations General Assembly voted to establish 2 October as the International Day of Non-Violence. (Photo from The New York Times slide show here: by Pawan Kumar/Reuters)


19 June 2008

Here, on this day in 1816…

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Winnipeg, Canada

This painting by Charles William Jefferys (1869-1951) depicts the The Battle of Seven Oaks (known to the Métis as la Victoire de la Grenouillière, or the Victory of Frog Plain) that took place here in the Red River Colony (modern-day Winnipeg) on June 19, 1816 during the long dispute between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, rival fur-trading companies in western Canada. The fight was triggered by a food shortage (an edict prohibiting the export of food called the Pemmican Proclamation had been issued by the Hudson’s Bay Company—this was not recognized by the local Métis, who also did not acknowledge HBC’s authority of the Red River Settlement). The Pemmican Proclamation was a blow to both the Métis and North West Company, who accused the HBC of unfairly monopolizing the fur trade with this action.

The battle erupted when a band of Métis, led by Cuthbert Grant, seized a supply of Hudson’s Bay Company pemmican (that was originally stolen from the Métis) and were travelling to a meeting with traders of the North West Company to whom they intended to sell it. They were met south of Fort Douglas along the Red River at a location called Seven Oaks by a group of HBC men and settlers—a heated argument eroded into a gunfight. Though well-supplied with hubris, the HBC men did not stand a chance against the Métis, who were skilled sharpshooters and outnumbered them by nearly three to one. The Métis killed 22 (of 24) on the HBC side, including the local Governor, while they themselves suffered only one casualty. The Métis were later exonerated by a Royal Commissioner appointed to investigate the incident. Grant went on to became an important figure in the Hudson’s Bay Company after its eventual merger with the North West Company.

(It seems clear that this incident was triggered the attempt at unfair monopolization — when “enterprising” goes too far)…


30 April 2008

Indigo design network launched…

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Melbourne, Australia

Indigo, an international programme that provides a platform for Indigenous design was launched last night (today) in Melbourne by Icograda, the world body for professional communication design, in partnership with Australia’s National Design Centre. Indigo offers opportunities for local and Indigenous designers across the globe—as designers work within a global context seemingly without borders, Indigo provides a platform for evolving creative expressions that shape the formation of national cultural identities.

Indigo is a project that asks: What is Indigenous design? To address this, it has set up a network of designers and a series of projects that explore its meaning and interpretation throughout the world. The notion of local design is frequently contested, hard won and often indeterminate. It includes themes of colonisation, migration, politics, language, history, identity and conditions such as the economy and natural resources.

Indigo seeks to understand what makes design distinctive to its home, the connections to the place where it is made and for whom it is made,” said Kathy Demos, Director of the National Design Centre. “Indigo is a demonstration of the IDA’s (International Design Alliance) commitment to fostering and promoting cultural diversity in today’s globalised society,” said Don Ryun Chang, President of Icograda and IDA Lead Chair.

I was delighted to see that background imagery for the Indigo website incorporates works from ‘Mix06 AUSA: Migrant Indigenous eXchange’ created by my students at the University of Hartford, USA and Monash University in Melbourne, AUS (Russell Kennedy and I introduced this pilot project in 2006 as an exploration of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous culture within the context of national identity). ‘Mix08: Sustainability is old news’ (the latest poster project announced by Indigo) invites design students around the world to create discourse and foster collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants.


14 November 2007

Wanganui, Whanganui…

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Wanganui, New Zealand

I’ve spent the past five days here in and around the far-flung, remarkable community of Wanganui (or Whanganui, as preferred by the local Maori), acting as an external moderator (re: graduating Masters and Bachelors students, along with Sherry Blankenship from VCU/Qatar and Rex Turnbull of Lino magazine, Australia) at the Wanganui School of Design. This remarkable school punches far above its weight (consistently out-pacing other NZ design programs re: student awards won, etc.) thanks in no small part to the inimitably dynamic Hazel Gamec (an ex-pat U.S. citizen from Minneapolis who jump-started the program here 20 years ago).

Aside from reviewing student work (very talented, very intelligent), I was able to take in a day of New Zealand farm-life with Hazel’s guy (tough ex-Navy Seal, diver, ardent hard-man hunter, deer expert), and I spent a day “up the river with Riki,” a cool Maori artist dude (working at the school) who took me to his ancestral land, introduced me to some of his relatives, welcomed me to his marae, and gave me some insight into the fascinating cultural milieu of the Maori (and the polemic relationship between these native peoples and the pakeha, or white folks). Fascinating, and something I’ll be looking into further…

A hearty “kia ora” and thank you(!) to everyone at the school who made me feel so welcome!

Photos above: The design school; awesome Hazel; tattoo-specialist Riki; a cool vernacular sign on the edge of town; freshly ironic graffiti (Maori accused of being “terrorists” headlined in daily news…); and sheep-herding Harvey’s way.


16 October 2006

Designer in Residence, Monash University

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Melbourne, Australia

I have spent the past four weeks here in Melbourne as Designer in Residence in the Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University. A focus of my time there has been the preparation of the traveling exhibition “MIX06: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward,” the culmination of the “Migrant Immigrant eXchange 2006” cultural exchange project undertaken by my design students Hartford School of Art and students of senior lecturer Russell Kennedy (my host) at Monash University. The aim of MIX06 has been to encourage contemporary discourse between Indigenous and non-Indigenous designers/collaborators in AUS and the USA, in recognition of and respect for both First Nation and Aboriginal culture.

Ev accompanied me to Australia, and enjoyed a spacious studio in the ceramics department at Monash. The school provided us with a fully equipped in-situ visitors’ apartment, for optimal convenience. Though my days were quite full at school, we availed ourselves of Melbourne’s excellent public transport systems to visit numerous galleries and museums. Weekend highlights ‘down under’ included field trips along the Great Ocean Road (springtime surf at Torquay, overnight in Lorne, the spectacular Twelve Apostles), a visit to wineries and marsupials in the Yarra Valley, and attending the Grand Final of the Australian Rules ‘footy’ season (in the MCG stadium packed with 97,000 singing fans).

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MIX06 will open in Hartford, Connecticut on 16 February 2007. You can read more about the initiative in the ‘About’ section, and view the individual works in the website gallery at: www.mix06.com.au


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