A Genealogy of Women Design Pioneers: Graphic Design from Southwest Asia to North Africa since the 1950s

Bahia Shehab  |  Research on the Arts Program  |  2021  |  Egypt

Team Members: Huda Abi Farès, Yasmine Nachabe Taan, Soukaina Hachem

Since the 1950s, women designers in the Southwest Asia to North Africa (SWANA) region have had a shy presence in the discourses on design and visual culture - especially in comparison to their male contemporaries. In response to the growing ‘global’ interest in discovering alternative histories beyond the renowned and predominantly euro-centric (and male-centric) narrative, and going beyond the interest of the young generation of designers from the region in archiving and documenting regional design history, this project aims to focus strictly on the work and stories of women graphic designers, illustrators and typographers from the region.

The project aims to address through critical writing, testimonials, and primary documents, the work of a vital and diverse group of women from the region, in order to help establish a foundation of women role models and to inform the design and research community at large about the wealth and social significance of these design pioneers. It aims to reintegrate SWANA women in global design history; redefine their role as active players within the broader sociopolitical and cultural development of the SWANA region; expose their unacknowledged role and contribution to visual and material culture of this region; defy stereotypes and other tropes on female identity within an Islamic/Arab context; question the role of design within the complexity of feminism and gender representation in the context of Arab visual culture and design practice; and uncover networks and connections across geographies, disciplines, and generations, forging links between past and present design practice.