Amir Berbić gives a new life to the story of his family’s experience in a Bosnian refugee camp in Denmark in the 1990s through the series of designs presented in this exhibition. Sahara: Acts of Memory illuminates the power of graphic design to suggest new ways of perceiving and living in the world, and it also reminds us of the discipline’s ability to give form to concepts, ideas, and memories.
In 1993, during the war in Bosnia, Hika and Ismet Berbić, with their two sons Amir and Isak, fled their home in Sarajevo, ultimately arriving at a refugee camp in Næsbyhoved-Broby, Denmark, where they lived for over a year. Shortly after their arrival, Ismet, a graphic designer, set out on a project to brand the camp. He named the camp “Sahara”—an ironic gesture referring to the sandy ground on which their tents were constructed, in marked contrast to the Danish countryside around them—and created a logo for it at a makeshift design studio in the corner of the tent his family shared with two other families. Hika and Ismet also organized a school for the children and worked to shape Sahara’s social life. Their efforts were instrumental in establishing a community among the refugees.
When faced with images of Syrian refugees fleeing their country in 2015, Amir, also a graphic designer, began reflecting on his childhood experience as a refugee. Over the next several years, he created a new version of Sahara—a new logo, a series of posters, and textbook covers—that constructs a new understanding of his family’s time in Denmark. Presented in two galleries, this exhibition spans the life of Sahara from 1993 to today. In one gallery, Amir reflects on the original refugee camp from 1993, tracing the outline of the tent’s interior and presenting historic artifacts including a series of original drawings his father created at Sahara. Another gallery presents Amir’s new Sahara through the design of a new logo, posters, and textbook covers that reflect on his experience and consolidate his family’s memories. Amir’s designs are a testament to how his father’s designs for Sahara shaped his family’s experience, demonstrating the multivalent power of design. Through Amir’s acts of memory, Sahara endures.