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Delusions and Errors: The Telling Poster Designs of an Overlooked Region

An ambitious attempt at a design interpretation of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region

Through the simple medium of the poster, a number of designers have created a prism through which a series of dialectics are exposed: Middle Eastern issues are expressed with European typography, or traditional Arabic techniques are used to depict contemporary issues. The poster exhibition Delusions and Errors is a heady mix, and it reminds us that design is always a triangulation between place, message and the unique circumstances of the designer.

Delusions and Errors is, according to the curators, an attempt to “play with notions of infinitude, error, and insanity in relation to the conditions of the present moment.” It’s an ambitious yet valiant attempt at a design interpretation of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region–in the face of political turbulence, cultural upheaval, and a digital revolution.

The exhibition itself features 28 designers, illustrators and typographers from the region, all invited to respond the titular theme with a poster. It debuted during Dubai Design Week in 2017, and was recently brought to Europe’s Weltformat Festival.

As co-curator, alongside Möbius Design Studio, Engy Aly explains, most of the posters “show a clear reflection of and commentary on the complex social and political situation in the region.” Viewing the show, this commentary is more explicit on some posters than others; some background knowledge often comes in useful in interpreting the meaning of these works.

Designers range from art directors at advertising agencies to studios and recent graduates. Most of the posters themselves were screen-printed, and use a maximum of three colors. Reluctant to be drawn on generalizations, the curators point to the fact that, “a big chunk of participants are from one place but live in another or have studied in another, so the influence and design approach cannot be tied to one location but is more national or international.”

The selection below shows a cross section of the posters on show, the diverse array of crafts used, and offers a window into design in an oft-overlooked region.

Maged El Sokkary, Transitions

This mesmerizing illustration depicts the versions of ourselves that we show externally, and those that obfuscate the image of our true selves. El Sokkary is based in Cairo, Egypt, and this poster is typical of his style. His subjects draw on myth and culture, fusing the two in a timeless harmony.

El Sokkary says, “We create a plastic alternative identity, a doll-like structure, where we use automated answers and toned down emotions to interact with the outside world in a manner that is socially acceptable. We end up toning ourselves down, forgetting that our intense feelings are what make us eventually, humans.”

Mahmud Şahan, New wife! New life!

Extrapolating the form of a life jacket, this poster asks us to rethink our notions of immigration. Turkish designer Mahmud Şahan lives and works in Copenhagen, having picked up a certain Swiss typographic influence to his work from his time at Basel. This poster uses European typography and form to depict the experience of migration.

It takes an ironic swipe at the resistance often encountered by migrants as they integrate into society. Şahan says, “My hope was for this poster to make people think from an immigrant’s perspective and feel empathy, cause new wives and new lives ain’t always what everybody wish for.”

Nora Aly, What If

This poster marries the fun with serious, responding to the saying “Because you are a girl,” with a proposed punishment for men. As shown in this darkly funny poster, Egyptian designer Nora Aly has a knack for bringing out the simplicity in potentially complex ideas. Her contemporary take on ancient scripts are accessible and vibrant, and her use of color makes everything she does bounce off the page.

Rasha Dakkak , A Call for Renewal

In this poster, Rasha Dakkak asks us to reconsider the symbolism of Islam in the face of postmodernity and the digital revolution. UAE-based Dakkak shows how the religion is “struggling with how to preserve a timeless message in a new-age society.”

Here, fractured versions of Islamic art, architecture, and symbology struggle to communicate their true message; the Arabic text is equivalent to ‘Lorem Ipsum’.

Tulip Hazbar, No.2 (O/ today) It was tomorrow and will be yesterday

Simplicity is deceptive in this English language series. Syria-born Tulip Hazbar is based in UAE, and her work revolves around treating memories as a tool to “preserve, deconstruct and reconstruct time and place.” That’s certainly what’s happening here, as the two typographic forms playfully interact on each poster, and throughout the series of three. They reference a theme present throughout each of these works: the struggle to retain a sense of history and identity in a rapidly changing world.

Tulip Hazbar, No. 3 (W/ tomorrow) The closest to future
Tulip Hazbar, No.1 (N/ yesterday) The nearest to the past

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