Look once. Then look again. Your eye won’t know where to rest at first—the compositions in this designer’s portfolio reject a linear reading. A variety of planes, stark juxtapositions of vibrant hues, a rhythmic layout of image and shape: for the graphic designer Ghazaal Vojdani, geometry and contrast are the punctuation marks of a distinct, unexpected visual grammar.
Vojdani grew up in London where she attended Central Saint Martins in 2006, then on to the U.S. to attend grad school at Yale. In the four and a half years since she graduated, she’s been working independently in New York, mostly for art and cultural clients. In her various projects, the defining aspect of her work is not only in the interesting compositions, as above, but also in the texture. With a practice more hands-on that most of her peers, Vojdani is fascinated by the idea of transforming space—whether static 2D plane, 3D structure, or 4D environment—into tangible and meaningful form.
Take, for example, her work with designer Mark Owens, of Life of the Mind, on the production of the 2014 Whitney Biennial catalogue. Vojdani held up pieces of paper to Marcel Breuer’s classic Whitney (now Met Breuer) building walls, creating 1:1 rubbings that would become the tactile pattern used throughout the publication. She’s employed a similarly deliberate yet rough-and-ready approach in projects for the likes of Bidoun Projects, a platform known for distributing new ideas and images about the Middle East, and the New York Times, where Vojdani holds regular stints as a freelance art director.
Vojdani’s refusal to comply with the norms of graphic design—breaking the visual grid, incorporating the physical with the digital—is reflected in her rebellious introduction to the field. “How I actually ended up in art school is quite funny,” she says. “I was living in Tehran and I had plucked my eyebrows during the last week of exams before the summer holidays. It’s something you’re not supposed to do in school, so I got kicked out and my headmistress suggested that my parents take me to art school, saying ‘It’s where she belongs.’”
Vojdani took the bitter comment as liberating advice: shortly thereafter, she found herself at a new high school that was intensely fixated on craft, and decided to major in graphic design. There, in a school without any computers, she learned about materials and printing processes. “I have been pretty hands-on with my work ever since,” says the designer.
Those formative years might explain Vojdani’s love of collage. Her poster for an exhibition called Free For All: Free Press at Pennsylvania’s ICA this year made elegant use of torn up fragments to communicate the urgency of freedom and the complexity of uncensored expression. To make the poster, Vojdani ripped paper from the show’s catalogue, which the public was similarly invited to do at an accompanying Risograph workshop.
“They could use these and other elements to create their posters,” Vojdani says, “With that, we were suggesting that there is no singular way of announcing the event. Thus the poster became an expression of freedom itself.”
Creating unexpected juxtapositions and formal parallels is a skill Vojdani excels in, and it’s one that she insists is bolstered by the collaborative relationships that she fosters. Her most arresting projects are the ones where she’s been given freedom to interpret and add to an idea. For that reason, she’s selective about the clients she takes on.
“Nobody tells a photographer how to frame their images and a painter how to paint,” she says, noting that she sees herself as collaborator and interpreter, not simply as skilled service provider.
With her recent projects, it’s easy to tell when Vojdani’s mind has been free to roam the furthest. There’s the rhythmic “triograph” of Iranian artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian, published by Mousse, where the dance between photos and bodies of text tells its own tale. There’s also the minimal and arresting identity for the artist Shahrzad Kamel, which conjures a distinctive spatial atmosphere (the website feels as if you’re drifting through a portal). Vojdani’s output—whether poster, identity, or catalogue—sharply breaks and deters from the expectations of the form, inviting viewers look to pause, to think, and then to look again with fresh eyes.