The First All-Emoji Art Show Announced

Bring on the tiny cartoons of guns, beer, aliens, hatching chicks–small emoji make their big art world debut.

It was only a matter of time: The first exhibition of Emoji Art and Design has just been announced. Forced Meme Productions sent out a call for artists working in the medium of wee characters to submit work to the show, which will run December 12 through 14 at the New York City Eyebeam Art and Technology Center.


The great emoji craze is understandable–in a complicated world, it can be hard to express what you really mean without tiny cartoons of guns, beer, aliens, flying stacks of money, Santa Claus, poop, syringes, fried chicken, flags, Easter Island heads, hatching chicks, puffer fish, tongues, muscles, top hats, and pairs of praying hands. Forced Meme Productions points out that emoji are just the latest iteration of a long line of pictographic communications, from cave paintings to hieroglyphics to religious and mythological symbols encoded in traditional painting and sculpture.

“We’re looking for a diverse array of interpretations and appropriations of the emoji that exist both on and offline,” says the official call for submissions. “The show welcomes new and existing works from a variety of mediums ranging from net art, to painting and sculpting, video and performance.”

The Reign of Emoji, which started in Japan, has so far brought us Katy Perry’s all-emoji “Roar” video (well, the all-emoji part is debatable); a Kickstarter campaign that raised $3,600 for an emoji retelling of Moby- Dick created by more than 800 people (titled “Emoji Dick“); and a New Yorker cover featuring the magazine’s dandy mascot mosaiced in emoji. And someday, Aziz Ansari may direct a movie starring the little ones. And for those who aren’t obsessive enough to make DIY emoji art, a new app called Emojify automatically emojifies your photos.

Another pioneer in this emerging genre is Co.Design’s own Emoji Master, Zoe Mendelson, who translates news and pop culture phenoms into these cartoon hieroglyphics every week. She’s done everything from her Lululemon-infested meditation retreat to the government shutdown to Carrie, drenched in pigs’ blood.

“The best thing about emoji is how arbitrary they are, for the most part,” says Mendelson. “That’s what lends them their charm. Using such a limited and random set of symbols inspires creativity.”

Not everyone is crazy about this new language though. As one concerned Business Day reporter wrote in her exploration of this newfangled teen fad, “People Don’t Use Words Any More.” After the Internet apocalypse, will we only communicate in Buzzfeedesque GIFs, abbrevs, and emoji, forgetting how to speak and write?


The call for submissions is open until November 8.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.