Illustrating the Middle East: 5 female digital artists tackling social change
Illustration is one of the cornerstones of Instagram, featuring motivational comics, drawings of public figures, educational graphics and more. The medium is used to integrate visuals into textual content across disciplines, from activism to mental health platforms and fictional stories. In the region, attention is often diverted from art; it’s often underappreciated, so EgyptianStreets spotlights five talented female illustrators from the Middle East who are sharing their work online and calling for some kind of social change in their designs.
1. Nour Flayhan
Nour Flayhan covers topics ranging from the Lebanese revolution to personal visual diary entries to profiles of important personalities from very recent history. Among those depicted are black people in the United States tragically shot by police, protesters, Egyptian icons of LGBT solidarity, and icons of Middle Eastern representation in the West. The Lebanese artist recently partnered with Gucci Beauty to create illustrations depicting the beauty of Arab women against traditional Western norms. According to an interview with Grazia ME, her series was made with the hope of “using poetry to spread warmth and hope to others”.
2. Rama Duwaji
Rama Duwaji is a Syrian artist based between Dubai and Washington DC. Her work revolves around the experience of diaspora and misogyny in communities of color.
Her most recent project was illustrating the video titled “Mesh Hastanna”, a song by Egyptian hip-hop artist Felukah, in collaboration with the global Islamic feminist movement Musawah. The song calls for equality and justice regarding family laws for women living in Muslim communities. Besides commissions, Duwaji creates graphic novels for Arab children. His work is often published in the British online magazine Galdem.
3. Deena Mohamed
Deena Mohamed is an Egyptian cartoonist based in Cairo. She has published two graphic novels in Arabic so far, with translations coming next year. ES told him earlier this year about Shubeik Lubeik, his trilogy of graphic novels about a world where wishes can be bought and used. The novels are about mental health, especially depression, and address its stigma in Egyptian society. It also includes a handcrafted satire on the issue of classism that is pervasive in Cairo culture.
Her comics career began with a Tumblr webcomic called Qahera, where the titular main character is a Muslim superwoman who fights political and social issues. Mohamed often works on a variety of commissioned illustrations, such as Google Doodle for Mufidah AbdulRahman or a comic book series with HarassMap, a non-profit anti-harassment tech initiative, about consent.
4. Sheyam Ghieth
Sheyam Gheith is an Egyptian-American graphic designer, probably best known for her work on Ramy, the Hulu television series by Egyptian-American comedian Ramy Youssef.
Ghieth is the artist responsible for the English and Arabic typographic visuals seen in the intros and outros. She also creates typographic art on her Instagram with simple statements ranging from humor, motivational messages and art supporting the queer community.
5. Mona Chalabi
Mona Chalabi is an Iraqi-born British visual and data journalist. She actively creates visual pieces based on statistics on her Instagram profile depicting current political situations in the United States and around the world.
It illustrates topics ranging from American police brutality to systemic racism and mental health. She also recently created educational illustrations providing information about COVID-19 and its symptoms. She has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times and several other publications.
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