For his “Say a Little Prayer” project, graphic designer
Giovanni Bianco, has re-imagined how we connect to the spiritual. The unique format, reminiscent of Bianco’s Catholic upbringing, means prayers appear in decks of cards. Each system of belief (from Catholicism to Hinduism to Islam) features 10 prayer cards with a colorful icon on the reverse. Bianco—who works with brands such as Versace and Miu Miu, and artists including Madonna—sees the pocket-sized prayers as a portable means of restoring balance in our fast-paced world. We spoke with the designer about depicting religions without iconography and making room for the spirit.
As a graphic designer, what inspired you to survey world religion and prayer?
Since I was a child, I had always been fascinated by the world of religions and the power of being spiritual. My parents are from Italy—they were Catholics, but started to learn about Brazilian Condomble when they moved to Brazil. Religion icons and customs had always surrounded me. I was fascinated not only by the messages that they would deliver but also by their aesthetic. It started with the traditional Catholic prayer cards. These cards had religious saying or images on the front and on the back some of them have prayers related to the image. My parents and relatives would carry them everywhere and I started to collect them myself. I was deeply drawn to these cards.
I wanted it to serve as a dynamic resource in approaching religions and spirituality with a renewed sense of beauty and hope.
After many years, I was talking with a prospective client in Italy and he told me that there was a growing market demand for prayer cards. I think that’s when I really started to build the idea of creating “Say a Little Prayer.” My approach was not to compete or replace preexisting prayer cards or religious practices but, instead, I wanted it to serve as a dynamic resource in approaching religions and spirituality with a renewed sense of beauty and hope.
You’ve spent five years with this project. Can you describe your process and some of the research involved?
We dedicated a long time doing research and studying every religion’s icons, customs and sayings and prayers. It was an interesting and long journey creating everything from A to Z. We had to face a lot of different issues during the design process. Indeed, I wanted to represent as many religions as possible. This was not easy because for example some religions don’t have any icons like a saint, so we had to substitute and create a visual for it, using the wonderful pattern of Islam for instance. Also we had to pay attention to the color we would choose to represent the religions. We had to pay attention to respect every aspect of the religions we would represent. But, this allowed me to learn even more about the religion and spiritual world and to see how beautiful and rich each are.
You’ve spoken about unity in religion, saying, “They all have one light, one origin.” In “Say a Little Prayer” it’s your aesthetic which draws these various practices and beliefs together. What did you envision as the relationship between the iconography and the prayers themselves? Can you tell us visually how you manifest that continuity between representational, traditions and those which resist iconography?
As you said, I brought these different religions and beliefs together and unified them playing with the design and graphics but also by the concept itself, creating prayer cards for all of them, like in Catholicism. I wanted to expand it to all of the religions. I wanted “Say a Little Prayer” to be a unique, modern and interesting way to represent a relationship between a person and his beliefs but also an easy way to learn and discover the beauty of other beliefs.
You’ve said that this project is not really about religions but about “philosophy and the beliefs that people connect with.” Have you heard about anyone using the set in unusual ways?
I am happy to see how receptive people are to “Say a Little Prayer.” There is lot of different ways and times of the day or night people can connect with these cards. The boxes are easy to carry too. What I usually hear is that depending on the day people had been through, they choose a little prayer or saying to find their own piece and balance.
“Say A Little Prayer” card sets are available for purchase from Taschen for $40.
Images courtesy of Taschen