One group is on a mission to open the country’s first design museum
As Indonesia was liberated from an authoritarian regime over a decade ago, a democratic government emerged—and so did a graphic design archive.
In 2003, the Southeast Asian nation was recovering from a recession and was on the cusp of holding its first direct presidential elections when Hanny Kardinata started an electronic mailing list to share his notes and artifacts on Indonesia’s graphic design past. This casual conversation with fellow designers Henricus Kusbiantoro and the late Priyanto Sunarto blossomed under the country’s more permissive climate, growing into a community that was formalized in 2007 as the Desain Grafis Indonesia (DGI).
Discarded financial documents, burnt archives at dachas [countryside houses],and metal closets missing keys for more than a decade. A Russian spy drama? It’s actually the true story behind the building of the Moscow Design Museum’s archive.
The institution, founded by two graphic designers, a journalist, and an architect (Alexander Sankova, Stephen Lukyanov, Nadezhda Bakuradze, and Valery Patkonen) has been racing against time to recover the quickly disappearing artifacts of Soviet design history. For a period that stretches from the 1920s to the dissolution of the union seven decades later, this means sifting through what has become discarded as junk and tracking down elderly designers who are surprised to be remembered at all.
“When we started collecting Soviet design artifacts, many designers cried out, ‘Where were you two months ago? I’ve just burned all my archives at dacha!’” explains Sankova over an e-mail interview. “They couldn’t believe that someone would ever want their archives for the museum.”
The Malaysia Design Archive actually began in Havana, Cuba. In 2007, founder Ezrena Marwan visited the city for the Icograda World Design Congress, where, as she listened to Cuban graphic designers share how they were limited to creating propaganda by their country’s politics, Ezrena was struck by how different it was from her own experience as a graphic designer back home.
“We only design for commercial stuff, and we don’t really pay attention to anything else,” she says. “I was really inspired by how much they think about design, and how much it’s linked to politics and the land.”
She started collecting and documenting everyday graphics in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and shared them online. That marked the beginning of the Malaysia Design Archive, a website that traces the history of this Southeast Asian nation through its visual culture.