the refugee project by ekene ijeoma and hyperakt at istanbul design biennial
the refugee project by ekene ijeoma and hyperakt at istanbul design biennial
nov 02, 2014

the refugee project by ekene ijeoma and hyperakt at istanbul design biennial

the refugee project by ekene ijeoma and hyperakt at istanbul design biennial
all images courtesy of the refugee project




every day, all over the world, ordinary people must flee their homes for fear of death or persecution. many leave without notice, taking only what they can carry. many will never return. they cross oceans and minefields, they risk their lives and their futures. when they cross international borders they are called refugees. does big data visualization regarding forced displacement help us understand, or make us apathetic? while the origins of the sentiment are contested, it’s true that the death of one person is a tragedy while the death of millions risks becoming a statistic.


exhibited by stamen’s mapmakers manifesto during the 2nd istanbul design biennial, titled ‘the future is not what it used to be’, brooklyn-based designer ekene ijeoma and hyperakt have presented ‘the refugee project’, a narrative, temporal map of refugee migrations since 1975. the responsive interface has been developed in conjunction with UN data in order to visualize refugee volumes over time, adding a layer of historical content to help explain the events that caused some of the largest refugee movements of the last four decades.

refugee project istanbul biennale designboom



visualized on the internet, the graphic intervention allows users to compare refugee population visually by country, view refugees by volume or by percent of population, explore where each country’s refugees have found asylum and also read about events that have led to refugee crises. for instance, the size of the circle around each country indicates how many of that country’s citizens are living abroad as refugees; the circles expand when a country experiences war, turmoil, famine, or repression, and the circles shrink when the country stabilizes or experiences political change and refugees return home; or, less often, when they are given legal residency in their new homes, or in third countries.

refugee project istanbul biennale designboom



the interactive map however, does not consider the large number of economic migrants and other undocumented populations, such the majority of the undocumented mexican nationals in the united states, and it also doesn’t show the millions of internally displaced people in troubled countries around the world. as a result, it is an image almost exclusively of social and political crises, rather than of natural disasters or economic turmoil.

refugee project istanbul biennale designboom

a toggle switch in the sidebar allows users to visualize the total number of refugees living abroad for a given country




‘the refugee project’ is part of ‘design and violence‘ an online curatorial experiment by the museum of modern art, new york that explores the manifestations of violence in contemporary society.

refugee project istanbul biennale designboom

 each wave of asylum seekers reflects a wave of repression, violence or chaos in their home countries

refugee project istanbul biennale designboom

asylum is seeked based on geography, the wealth of the individual refugee, political considerations and the policies of the UN

refugee project istanbul biennale designboom



about the 2nd istanbul design biennial:


the 2nd istanbul design biennial ‘the future is not what it used to be’ organized by the istanbul foundation for culture and arts (IKSV) and curated by zoë ryan opens to the public on november 1st, 2014. throughout the city and in the biennial hub, galata greek primary school, the biennial features 53 projects from designers all over the world that ask: ‘what is the future now?’ as well as panels, conversations, workshops, film screenings and many other events until 
14 december 2014. by rethinking the manifesto as a platform to frame pertinent questions, the projects question the role of design, its relationship to society, and its ability to be an active agent for change.


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