Irked by stereotypes of aggressive Muslims poised to impose Sharia law on the world? Blame branding. At least, that is what Israeli artist Dana Yahalomi is claiming in her project, Rebranding European Muslims.
In an experiment designed to highlight the power of commercial and political branding, Ms Yahalomi, 30, launched a competition for branding agencies to create new images or slogans that might affect popular views of Muslims in Europe.
The winning proposal, “Look Twice”, was a typography-based campaign combining Arabic fonts and Latin letters, designed by the Austrian branding firm Demner, Merlicek and Bergmann.
The winning team, under Francesco Bestagno and Alexander Hofman, designed a poster with a headline that read: “At first glance many things seem incomprehensible”.
The winners were announced at a gala event last month in Graz, Austria, hosted by Nadja Kayali, an Austrian-Syrian radio broadcaster and musicologist. The event was part of the city’s annual autumn festival for contemporary art, Steirischer Herbst.
According to the website of the winning firm, their entry was meant to “hold up mirrors to people and demonstrate to them just how easily and quickly one can rashly judge”.
Ms Yahalomi, who lives in Israel but travels frequently as a co-founder of the Israeli artists group “Public Movement”, was inspired to create the project after observing how opponents of a planned Islamic cultural centre in lower Manhattan successfully rebranded the centre as “the Ground Zero Mosque” when it was neither a mosque nor located right at the World Trade Centre site.
“The political success of the Ground Zero Mosque campaign was heavily based on the art of branding,” Ms Yahalomi said. “My initial question was how such a branding exercise would change if it was initiated by an artist and not by a politician, an activist, a real estate company and so on.”
She said her purpose was not to “show a better or worse image”, but to show that branding can be manipulative. Rebranding European Muslims was intended “to expose the void between the brand and the thing that it is branding”.
Ms Yahalomi added: “There was big interest from Muslim communities in Austria and elsewhere.”