Critical Mass exhibition celebrates Lebanon's female graphic designers

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Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women

Critical Mass exhibition celebrates Lebanon's female graphic designers

The four female graphic designers showcased in a group exhibition at Beirut Design Week are hoping their event will help bring change in an industry where "women aren't really taken seriously".

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
The Critical Mass: Women in Graphic Design brings together four designers with diverse styles. Photograph by Rima Sabina Aouf/Dezeen

The exhibition, titled Critical Mass: Women in Graphic Design, brought together the work of graphic designers Samar Haddad, Rana Zaher, Yasmine Darwiche and Stephy Ibrahim.

The four women all have diverse styles and practices – from Haddad's pop-culture homages to Zaher's mythology-rich illustrations. This was part of the attraction for the organisers of Beirut Design Week, who wanted to showcase the breadth of these designers' interests.

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
The exhibition was held at venue KED during Beirut Design Week in May. Photograph by Rima Sabina Aouf/Dezeen

"The majority of students in university who study graphic design are women, and most of them end up working in companies who do purely commercial work," Beirut Design Week creative director Doreen Toutikian told Dezeen.

"I felt like there wasn't a platform or a space where their artistic talents as graphic designers were appreciated, so we decided to bring these four women together for an exhibition. We picked these four specifically because they are quite new, very talented and have totally different styles."

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Among the exhibiting designers was Stephy Ibrahim, whose work focuses on the architecture of cities

The designers involved said they had previously struggled to get recognition for their work, and that their struggles were made harder by being women in the industry.

"Unfortunately countries abroad have more resources," Zaher told Dezeen. "I have to travel to get most of my art materials, and people appreciate what we do more abroad."

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Ibrahim's illustration of Amsterdam reduces the city to its unique pattern

Haddad, who produces work under the name Space Vacation, added: "Sometimes women aren't really taken seriously as designers because sadly it's still a patriarchal society and some people here prefer working with men. This exhibition is trying to change this."

All-female shows have been rife at design weeks around the world this year, as discussions about gender discrimination have come to the fore.

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Rana Zaher, who is also an archaeologist, creates mythology-rich illustrations

The architecture and design industries internationally are largely dominated by men, with industry studies showing huge disparities in pay, as well as problems relating to long hours and childcare.

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Zaher weaves in motifs from ancient Assyrian, Babylonian and Levantine cultures

Two major shows featuring only female designers featured at NYCxDesign last month, where designers said they were spurred by the inauguration of President Trump and the subsequent wave of global "women's marches".

Yasmine Darwiche blends photography and illustration in her practice

Milan also saw its share of women-focused displays, including one by De Castelli that asked female designers to give metal furniture an "emotional allure".

At Beirut Design Week, where Critical Mass ran from 19 to 26 May at the central KED exhibition venue, the focus was on the diversity of the women's work.

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
She takes long strolls through Beirut, photographing in black and white, and then drawing on top of the images

Darwiche blends photography and illustration in her practice. She takes long strolls through Beirut, photographing in black and white, and then drawing on top of the images to bring out the city's architecture.

Ibrahim, who uses the alias Saturn in Motion, also focuses on architecture in her work – alongside other aesthetic and cultural elements of cities, like their street art.

She attempts to find the "hidden pattern" in each city she illustrates, reducing it down to the minimal and abstracted geometries that are unique to it. So far her series has featured Beirut, Berlin, Vienna, Rotterdam, Athens and Amsterdam.

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Haddad's Game of Thrones poster features the characters arranged like they're in a school photo

Haddad designs posters based on movies and TV series such as Alien and Westworld. One features the characters of Game of Thrones arranged like they're in a school photo.

Zaher, who is an archaeologist as well as a graphic designer and illustrator, creates intricate images that weave in motifs from ancient Assyrian, Babylonian and Levantine cultures. Her work incorporates figures like Ishtar – the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war – and has an activist bent.

Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
She bases her designs on movies, TV series and other pop culture

"All these things were once part of a great civilisation, but now no one talks about it, no one sees it," she said. "And these days this culture is kind of endangered, with all the terror and all the destruction that's going on, especially in Iraq in Mosul, Nimrud and Nineveh, and Syria."

"I think it's kind of our job as designers and illustrator of this region to put forward this culture."

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Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women
Critical Mass exhibition of graphic design by women