Immerse your self within the unknown historical past of ebook covers from the Arab world

When it comes to lockdown passion projects, Moe Elhossieny's most recent project is particularly impressive. The Cairo-based designer, researcher, and author worked with Egyptian-based volunteer researcher Nourhan El Banna and assistant researchers Omayma Dajani (Palestine) and Yaman To & # 39; meh (Lebanon) to create the first digital archive for Arabic book covers designs, which were published between the 1950s and 1990s.

The project, titled Arabic Book Cover Archive, is part of the wider work of the organization Elhossieny Design Repository مستودع التصميم, which aims to make Middle Eastern aesthetics part of the global discussion about design. Here he tells CR about his motivations and ambitions for the project.

The Coward Prince by Jacob Al Sharoni, 1983. Designer: Helmi Eltuni; Editor: Al Shrouk

Creative Review: Tell us about your background and how you got into design.
Moe Elhossieny: I studied visual and graphic arts and completed a BA at the Faculty of Visual Arts in Egypt in 2009. Back then, design was not a separate subject or practice, you were either making art or advertising. After doing this for a while, I knew advertising wasn't what I wanted to do, at least not in the long term, so I enrolled in the Graphic Design course at Central Saint Martins.

I fell in love with writing and research while studying at CSM. I finished and worked in London for a while before deciding to return to Cairo in 2018. I joined a local company that had a great team and was named an experience and design director.

And the show goes on by Mohamed Mezari, 1991. Designer: Mohieddin Ellabbad; Editor: Arab Falcon

CR: How did the idea for the Arabic book cover archive come about?
ME: At the same time as I started my job, I got into the habit of strolling through the city on weekends. On these walks I came across used street book markets. The markets mostly had really old books with vivid colors and screaming typographic treatments which intrigued me. As my interest in Arabic design grew, I was looking for a bigger issue of identity that could shape my practice. I started asking very obvious and basic questions. Is there a book on the history of Arabic book cover designs? Is there anyone who documents, writes or archives these beautiful books? Over time, I realized the answer is no.

I started aimlessly collecting and scanning these books, and in February of this year I decided to step back from work and open my own area called Design Repository start التصميم to publish writings on design and visual culture. The space will also promote research projects on design. There are a few of them now, and the Arabic Book Cover Archives are one of them.

The Chase by Said Ali, 1991. Designer: Mohieddin Ellabbad; Editor: Arab Falcon

CR: Why do you think there has never been such an archive?
ME: There are many reasons why it didn't exist before, some I don't know, but I made some observations in Egypt. One of the things that I have observed is that the physical archives are often inaccessible and in some cases non-existent. The same applies to research institutions and most sources of information in general. Most researchers usually feel intimidated and discouraged by the rigidity of the process, constant skepticism, and unwarranted refusal to collaborate, as most public institutions do. When you add the exclusivity of private archives of international educational institutions that serve very few people, they feel alienated and demotivated.

The same applies to publishers, where the entire sector has grown old and tired and there is hardly any competition of any kind and very few independent publishers. Over time, book designs become saturated and feel very similar, so more and more people stopped noticing at all. Only when you put the old and the new next to each other can you tell the difference and realize that we had some kind of design, but now we only have computers.

To kill a Harper Lee mockingbird. Designer: Gamal Kotb; Publisher: National Printing and Publishing House

CR: How was the process and what have you learned so far?
ME: We are currently still in the first phase to be collected. So we haven't gone through a process of scrutinizing the material yet, but a few things appealed to me. For example, I have found that we have a knowledge gap in our regional history of modern design and the cause of this gap is not necessarily the lack of content but rather the lack of practices related to the preservation, documentation and dissemination of knowledge. This prevents knowledge of Arabic design from accumulating, makes fractalizing easier, and gives it a tendency to duplicate itself.

I learned that we have more book designers, illustrators and artists than I thought. Some of them have very strong unique styles, approaches, and philosophies. I also began to see the general defining features of each epoch with some common features that influenced general stylistic and conceptual practice. I've also found that most of these people are underestimated and overlooked even from the field. The archive is designed to highlight their work and move it forward so that students, scholars, writers, and researchers can be interested in it.

The Wonder Well by Jacob Al Sharoni, 1983. Designer: Helmi Eltuni; Editor: Al Shrouk

CR: What are your long-term hopes for the Design Repository?
ME: At the moment, the مستودع التصميم design repository is supposed to be a community-based production space for design knowledge. Space will encourage the compilation, production, accumulation and dissemination of this knowledge. At present, the way design works in the social structure is only dominated by market demand, which restricts and oversimplifies the possibilities of design.

Universities are happy to help produce new waves of designers that fit into this shape and meet market demand. I think we need a new or alternative narrative about what design is and what role it plays in our society. We are creating a new design center to decentralize the current field.

A gold card by Amar Salman, 1991. Designer: Mohieddin Ellabbad; Editor: Arab Falcon

The Arabic book cover archive is supported by the Swiss Art Council Pro Helvetia Cairo. @arabicbookcoverarchive

A note from the Arabic book cover archive: We are doing this research to serve as teaching material for others, and we do not claim any copyright in any of the designs. This right is reserved for every publisher and the designer of the work. We will not endorse the reproduction of this material for commercial purposes without obtaining copyright law