They belong in a museum! First ever emojis now a New York MOMA exhibit

A picture of our recent past

New York’s Museum of Modern Art has announced that it’s acquired the very first collection of emojis (all 176 of them) for its permanent collection. 

It’s almost hard to believe that we’re now in a present where emoji are a significant and long-established part of our past, but here we are. 

The symbols were designed for mobile phones and pagers back in 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita and were distributed by Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo. Now they’re being gifted to MOMA by the phone company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.

Modern hieroglyphics

As you’d expect of digital designs from 1999, the emojis are fairly basic 12-by-12 pixel designs with a limited color palette. The 176 symbols include things like smiley faces and hearts as well as zodiac and weather symbols. 

There’s nothing quite as advanced as the cheerful poops or dancing salsa ladies we’re sprinkling through our conversations today, but they still effectively and efficiently communicate a message.

MOMA via Reuters

These emojis proved to be wildly popular in Japan when they were launched, but they didn’t really become internationally recognised for another 11 years when they were translated into the Unicode standard. Even then they didn’t really become as much of a sensation as they are today until Apple added them to the iOS messaging app in 2011. 

Today the Unicode Consortium recognises around 1,800 emojis, with more being added daily to help us communicate as many aspects of our lives as possible. Whether or not emojis can be considered art will no doubt divide opinion, but there's no doubt that this collection is an important part of recording how our communication methods have developed over the years. 

Exact details of how the emoji will be permanently installed are still being decided, but in the meantime the symbols will be displayed in the museum’s lobby from the start of December until the end of 2016 using graphics and animations.