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Monday, 17 February 2020

Students' exhibition at American University in Cairo tackles cultural, educational and social issues

The Sharjah gallery hosts the exhibit of AUC’s graphic design students' graduation projects

Soha Elsirgany, Thursday 17 Dec 2015
mebaksel kedah leih?
Mebaksel Kedah Leih? graphic design exhibition at Sharjah Gallery (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
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AUC’s graduating class of Graphic Design is set to display their final projects in an exhibit titled Mebaksel Keda Leh? (Why So Pixelated?) at the university’s Sharjah Gallery.

On 8 and 9 December a panel of advisors was invited to critique the student’s works, as a pedagogical opportunity for the students who presented and defended their work.

The exhibition is the result of two-semesters of work, the first being theoretical and research based, and the second more practical, overseen by professors Bahia Shehab, Nagla Samir and Haytham Nawar who mentored the students while they were completing their finals projects.

Good design aims to be both functional and attractive, and is usually born when in touch with reality. It is interesting to see the realities of these students, and the topics they chose to pursue based on their interests or on the market needs they perceive.

True to heritage re-branding

Perhaps with Egypt’s declined tourism in mind, and the backdrop of neglected museums around the country, many of the students diverted their attention to cultural identity, rebranding important culture sites in Egypt and making them more accessible to local and foreign audiences alike.

These add up to six of the 24 projects: re-branding Al-Montazah in Alexandria by Nourhan Abdelbaki, re-branding the Egyptian Agriculture Museum by Sara Azlw, promoting Souq El-Silah Street by Passant Omar, visual identity for the Islamic Museum in Cairo by Aya Shehaby, iconography of historic monuments in Cairo by Engy Abulkhair, and signage and information systems for Moez Street by Farah Hamdy.

Some chose to go deeper, or rather wider, than others. For instance, where Shehaby focused more on exhibiting merchandise that could be sold at the Islamic Museum’s gift shop, Abulkhair took to a simpler, overview approach in placing a number of Cairo’s monuments on a map, complemented by a postcard series.

All six of these projects follow the general course of modernising heritage, re-branding in line with current design trends, giving it a fresh look that also preserves the character heritage and identity of these places.

An example is in Azlw’s rebranding of the agriculture museum.

“I wanted tradition with a modern touch,” she told the jury.

She further explained that this museum held many important collections, but was not marketed as such and had no visual identity, with very little done to attract visitors or enhance their experience once they're there.

One of the projects that were quite expansive was Abdelbaki’s branding of El-Montazah. Located at the eastern tip of Alexandria's coast, the now public gardens and beaches were originally (prior to 1952) the grounds surrounding the royal summer palace of Egypt’s kings, built by Khedive Abbas in 1900.

In her project she re-designs everything from entry tickets to beach membership cards, a map indicating the beaches and places and a life-size model for a signpost.

Familiar with the place from frequent visits with her family, Abdelbaki is familiar with the place and all it has to offer. She is also familiar with its unfulfilled potential.

Currently El-Montazah has no distinct brand identity, frozen in time with practical tickets on simple paper void of any design concerns.

“There is no clear map or signage system, you only reach a place if you already know where it is or by asking people,” she says.

A strong visual reference was already in place for Abdelbaky owing to the palace’s distinct architecture, a masterpiece that was built around 1900 by Khedive Abbas. This style was not replicated in many other places apart from the Montazah Company running the gardens, until Abdelbaky built her project’s designs on.

“We will never see this Italian architecture again, I thought it was important to capture it and highlight it,” she says.

The tickets and stationary borrow from the palace’s distinct colours and architectural style.

She also selected icons to symbolise the four different beaches. These icons are used to decorate the back of the members’ cards, achieving a modern, yet different effect than the other pieces in the project, something that drew the attention of one of the jury.

“The designs inspired from the architecture are very successful, but it’s important that the card carries the same identity and doesn’t hold another one,” says Ibrahim Islam, designer at JWT advertising company and a jury member.

Consistency in design, practicality, scalability, it is points like these that the jury would point out to, offering the students a chance to perfect their projects in developing them further and preparing them for release into the real world beyond the exhibition.

Though the presentations offer tangible samples, they are also all mockups, in the sense that they haven’t yet entered the market, yet one of the students, Hamdy, took hers a step further by developing the phone application titled Moez Street Guide, which is ready to download by users.

Users can follow the app for a day tour of the area, with the monuments colour coded according to the four main periods: Ottoman, Mamluk, Ayyubid and Fatimid. Clicking on a monument reveals options including directions to it and quick background information.

sexual education kit
Sexual Education kit by Ahd Sherif (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Design for social change

Aside from the cultural identity projects, one of the projects targeting an important social issue is the Sexual Education kit by Ahd Sherif.

In Egypt, sex is somewhat of a taboo, and as such many people, especially in lower class communities, end up in marriages with little knowledge about their own bodies.

“The initial audience I had in mind was newly-wed couples, but I made sure to create something that can be available and used anywhere, clinics as well as homes,” Sherif says.

“I noticed that no one was using the correct terms in Arabic. They either say it in English or say it elusively in a very awkward way,” Sherif says, explaining why the kit has only Arabic writing.

“As for the design, my first inspiration for what type of thing I wanted was the First Aid Kit, something that’s easily accessible and can save lives,” she continues.

The kit is a four winged folder, that when open spreads out as a full info graph with the basics of puberty, intercourse, birth and menstruation. It is interactive, with pockets filled with flashcards, and a spinning wheel revealing the stages of child development in the womb.

“One of the challenges was how to do this in a clear descriptive way that was also clinical,” she says.

To resolve this she worked with simple line diagrams and minimal colour, rendering the overall effect educational and far from erotic or explicit.

She also effectively kept the information from being too dense to the point where it’s a dreaded textbook, having just a few lines of what she felt was the most important information to accompany the diagrams.

During her research semester, a doctor named Hala Gad, who was one of the main sources of scientific information, aided Sherif in her understanding of the status of sexual education in Egypt, and what is being done.

Another project battling social stigma is Salma Darwish’s project Raising Awareness for Balady Dogs.

Also up and running is her initiative named Balady Dogs, which has already begun raising awareness and funds for the Cairo Animal Rescue Team (CART) dog shelter.

“She looked into why people mistreat dogs, and why the breed of balady dogs in particular. Being the most common street dogs, they tend to be the most abused,” Nagla Ismail, AUC professor and director of the Sharjah Gallery, told Ahram Online.

With puppets she designed, a character that looks like a self portrait of Darwish, a dog, and a doctor, she held a puppet show for children addressing their issues towards these dogs. At the exhibit, a video of the puppet show is playing.

“She researched the stigma around them, which came down to some main scenarios- fear from them, mistreating them because they are dirty, and religious concerns that dogs are impure.”

Darwish also designed an array of products, like mugs, t-shirts, key chains, that bear the Balady Dogs’ logo of a paw with a missing finger. The products are meant to fundraise, and the whole project acts as a campaign for street dogs that can work with other present institutions.

“Now she is working with CART, but she can also work with other shelters,” Samir says.

Fantasy and function

Student Dina Soliman’s interest in graphic novels had her complete a fiction titled Shobeik Lobeik for her final project. Highly creative yet grounded in culture and socially relevant, her elaborate plot re-imagines Egypt as a world where wishes are bought at a koshk (street kiosk selling snacks.)

An example of a product based project is Yasmine El-Bakly’s Hani’an. El-Bakly used hand-blown glass to design a multifunction container.

With cork sealing its bottom and top, the product doubles as a bottle and can be turned upside down to become a cup.

“It can also be used as a candle holder. I wanted to make something creative and functional,” El-Bakly tells Ahram Online.

The bottle’s primary role is to act as ambassador for the five ‘local drinks’ she fills in to them, kharoub, karkade, erksous, tamr hindy and sobia.

“These drinks are only around during Ramadan, but they are quite like medicine in their nutritional value,” she says, explaining that her product would be a way to encourage people to drink them all year-round.

The Tele Museum by Sara Fateen takes an educational focus, creating a card game for the French revolution.

The cards hold questions on one side and beautiful collage designs inspired by the key events of the French revolution on the other side.

“I see it more as a redesigned book or a revision tool, but as game play it needs development,” commented jury member Ahmed Saqfalhait, head of graphic design department at the German University in Cairo.

Mebaksel Keda Leih? offers very impressive presentations, and passionate inventive projects which though rough around the edges offer a glimpse into the type of future these students hope to shape.

Shobeik lobeik
Shobeik Lobeik graphic novel by Dina Soliman (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Programme:
The exhibition opened on 6 December 2015 and runs until 16 January 2016.
Sharjah Art Gallery, AUC, Road 90, 5th District, New Cairo.


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