The Middle East is about to explode. Indeed, creative energy is bursting out of the Arab world and Iran. Graphic design from the region is a case in point. Although the creative discipline is still quite young in these countries, it is very much flourishing. Stunning and exciting cross-cultural designs abound, driven by the influence of globalization on a local, already visually rich culture, as well as the present social and political situation.
Graphic design from the Middle East? That must mean some posters and logos featuring camels, a lot of gold and palm trees, right? OK, from time to time a camel does show up on a poster. Or some company from Dubai will reveal its new, gold-plated logo. But whoever thinks of Arab graphic design in this stereotypical way is in for a surprise. As a matter of fact, a new generation of designers is defying all clichés about the Arab world. These designers’ creative exuberance is often cutting-edge and groundbreaking. In a culture this visual, local tradition combined with the influence of globalization constitutes a blend that’s a more than sufficient source of inspiration. A clash of civilizations is definitely out of the question here. On the contrary, a hybrid, graphical mix is manifest. It is therefore not surprising that Western interest for graphic design from this region is steadily growing.
Graphic design took off in the Middle East at a later time than in the West. The result however is just as powerful. In a time when we are exposed to a never-ending stream of photoshopped images, handmade designs are gaining more and more recognition. In countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, the art of drawing is still considered to be very important in art academies. These academies are represented by hyper-talented illustrators who mix their handmade designs with digital illustrations. They produce designs with depth and texture that breathe nostalgia and have a contemporary feel at the same time.
Taking a look at designs of Arab creative minds one will notice the important role of calligraphy. However, the graphic scene has embraced calligraphy rather reluctantly. Arabic calligraphy is revered throughout the Middle East. As a deeply rooted tradition in both Arab and Persian visual culture it is considered by many to be the highest form of visual expression. Partly because of this, designers entertain a certain reticence in approaching this ‘sacred’ form of art. The last couple of years however, a number of artistic disciplines -such as graphic design- discovered the power of calligraphy. Young designers started to embrace classical calligraphy and incorporated it into their designs. Mouneer El Shraani for example, a calligrapher and graphic designer from Damascus, is not afraid of integrating calligraphy in present-day designs by adapting it. He does not approach calligraphy as a rigid form of art, but reworks it into a personal graphic style.
While there is an extensive supply of Latin fonts, Arab graphic designers only have a small number of fonts at their disposal. For a long time, Arabic typography could not match the aesthetic value and the importance of calligraphy. In part due to the rapidly growing graphic scene designers realized that there was a need for fonts fitting in with the international graphic setting. Over the last few years, Arabic fonts have shown a marked development. The demographic change in the West asked for an intercultural font as well. A significant part of the population of large cities like Amsterdam and London has an Arab background. This inspired Ben Wittner and Sasha Thoma to launch Talib Type, a Latin font inspired by the Arabic script.
The world is witnessing a new generation of Arab graphic designers and illustrators. Artists such as Tarek Atrissi, Reza Abedini and Diana Hawatmeh have become established names in the international graphic world for a long time now.
Written by Asma Ould Aissa
Translated by Tine Lavent
This post is also available in: Dutch