This week we’re running online for the first time six pieces from our past issues of Eye on Design magazine. First up from the “Psych Issue,” is an interview between Shira Inbar (who also designed the issue) and Homa Delvaray.
My first encounter with the work of Tehran-based graphic designer Homa Delvaray was in the library of the university I attended in Jerusalem. I turned the page of a design magazine to discover a captivating poster, rich with textures, patterns, and three-dimensional Arabic typography. I was struck by the way the letters jumped off the page, pulling me into a maze-like space that felt traditional and ornate, yet also very modern.
Delvaray’s work lives at the intersection of current global cultural codes and traditional Iranian visual culture. She designs posters, books, exhibitions, records, logos, and typefaces, and she exhibits internationally, bringing her fresh voice in graphic design to places well beyond Iran.
I’m curious about your title for a 2007 exhibition you organized with 20 young Iranian graphic designers. “Rokhsat” references the permission a young wrestler traditionally asks for before entering a ring—why did you choose it?
The group of young designers who participated in the exhibition represents a new generation seeking new experiences and new ways of claiming their Iranian identity while participating in modern technological advances. The title of the exhibition is not literally meant to ask for approval from the elders. It reflects our choice to acknowledge the past, while declaring our right to seek new opportunities and experiences in design.
As young designers, we are often confronted by traditional Iranian culture, since previous generations regard graphic design as a field with predetermined principles. Our generation of designers is often accused of violating these fundamental frameworks because of the formalistic and more extreme approaches they explore.
In my opinion, one shouldn’t fear judgment. If we seek only approval from others, we’ll end up restraining our creativity and depriving ourselves of our own experience. To achieve a unique visual language and find new ways of communicating, one needs to test the boundaries.
“I think reality has led us to a more personalized, subjective, and multidimensional interpretation of meaning.”
Your work is visually intricate and layered with meaning; each poster almost functions as a microcosmos, telling a packed and complex story. How do you balance clarity and order with this approach?
Traditionally, one might expect design to strive for simplicity and clarity. This is especially true in the design of posters. But in a time of nonstop new technologies and the constant stimulation of social media, the role and function of the poster has changed. I think reality has led us to a more personalized, subjective, and multidimensional interpretation of meaning. A designer wishing to play a role in shaping visual culture and aesthetic perceptions should embrace the complex information patterns, the unusual combinations, and the formalist aesthetic approaches around us.
I openly embrace unusual, irreverent, and colorful things, and interpret them in new ways. I combine formative and semantic layers, and address different aspects of a topic. I turn simple, transient, and one-to-one communication into sophisticated and multidimensional communication. I’m against simplifying design and clarifying everything to the viewer. I think a designer with such a mindset insults the intelligence of the viewer by assuming they are not able to solve a simple riddle or comprehend complicated relationships.
You often use 3D typography and representations of traditional architecture and ornament in your work. What is it that keeps you returning to these things?
The experience of space through the arrangement of typography is very important to me. In my work I invert, bend, break, hang, and suspend letters and words. I try to create a dialogue between the three-dimensional nature of the letters and the two-dimensional function of their surfaces.
My motivation to create 3-D typography originates in traditional Persian painting. As part of my thesis work I began to study visual traditions in Iranian-Islamic art, and noticed a dramatic presence of architectural elements. Their representation hugely affected me; I was swept by the detail and ornament of the architectural surfaces, and by the perspectives that widen and extend a point of view. This led me to interpret these potentials in a new way in my own work. The richness of the past provides me, to this day, with unlimited possibilities for new compositions.
“The experience of space through the arrangement of typography is very important to me.”
You often render themes that are rooted in current and traditional craft and technology. What motivates you to represent and explore these media—old and new?
My work is a reflection of where I live. Tehran is a historic city with a rich legacy and many paradoxes. I regard my Iranian-Islamic culture as an inexhaustible source of inspiration, both visually and conceptually. I work to rejuvenate it in contemporary contexts, shifting it beyond its borders to form new perspectives.
Though my work is historically situated, it’s in constant dialogue with the present. I strive to find new ways to reconcile tradition with the contemporary arena. I work to balance contradictions and polarities: West and East, past and present, local and international.