The personal is political: Haitham Haddad’s journey to bring Arabic back to public spaces in Palestine

Haitham Haddad of Studio Mnjnk proves to be an endlessly fascinating and strong-willed figure, with a beautiful body of work that speaks for itself.

Date
13 October 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

Palestinian Haitham Haddad is an artist with an interesting journey. Graduating in 2011 with a BA in fashion design, Haitham went on to become an assistant costume designer. But all the while, he knew he wanted to be a leading creative in his own lane. After all, “Drawing and illustrations were always what I did as a kid,” Haitham tells us.

At first, he began posting illustrations on social media, which lead to work on posters and T-shirts around 2012. “Poster design was for me a free business card that is hung all over the city, so I tried my best working mainly on event branding,” Haitham explains. “And when they did not exist, I used to create my own fictional events.” With such initiative, it’s easy to see why Haitham strayed from fashion design and ventured into his own work as an artist. In fact, fashion is far from what Haitham produces today with his studio Studio Mnjnk (manjaneeq, which means catapult in Arabic). Part-illustration and part-graphic design, Studio Mnjnk’s work draws on Arabic influences and mostly works to uplift, celebrate, and campaign for his home and place of residency: Palestine. “The studio functions as a mothership for all the projects I love creating such as murals, comics, poster and publications design, and once in a while some printed T-shirts,” he explains.

But, there’s more on the agenda than Studio Mnjnk simply being an outlet for Haitham. “It’s very important for me to state that the existence of Arabic lettering and signs in Palestinian public spaces is decreasing and sometimes in businesses, it’s not approved so easily,” he says. “Living under occupation, even in the areas presented as harmonic and peaceful by the occupation, is a daily fight to resist the erasure of Arab and Palestinian identities within the landscape.” Consequently, many of Haitham’s designs, graffiti tags, and public works have “always had a political agenda even if [he] didn’t really intend for them to be,” as the presence of the Arabic language in occupied Palestine is in and of itself a political statement. It’s fitting, then, that Haitham’s aesthetics evoke somewhat of a grunge and punk aesthetic, reworked to feel uniquely his whilst still maintaining a spirit of protest. “Being a semi-emo kid that couldn't afford the look, the aesthetics of emo, grunge, and punk were rooted in me but needed some freeing,” he says. “So I’m heavily inspired by punk zines, like their tears and folds showing on paper and hand-written typography with many mistakes and imperfections.”

GalleryHaitham Haddad (Copyright © Haitham Haddad, 2021)

Between raising awareness for the Arabic language in Palestine and practicing an “autodidactic visual communication,” Haitham also simply likes to have fun with his designs. “Almost every poster I create for a music group or artist for their tours I enjoy so much,” he says. “You follow a certain guide to adjust to the artist, but most musicians gave me the freedom to create something beyond tour dates and info.” It’s similar to why the queer world is his daily inspiration for creation: “The freedom and fluidity in gender expression, the powerful conversation between the old/traditional and the new/young approach is always eye opening,” Haitham clarifies. “Especially in my illustrations, you can find it.”

As for what’s next, Haitham has just finished a collaboration with Mizna and Wael Morcos – the latter of which being a typography studio working in the same realms as Haitham – and “had the pleasure of illustrating the newsprint dedicated to Sarah Hegazi,” the socialist, writer, and lesbian activist who committed suicide after a stint in prison for protesting LGBTQ+ rights in Egypt. “Now, I am hoping to open a platform where I can sell some of my designs and connect better with the outside world,” Haitham concludes. “I want to create a design hub in my city where more collaborations and artistic creations can happen, because we miss these spaces that bring together all of our creative energies.”

GalleryHaitham Haddad (Copyright © Haitham Haddad, 2021)

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Haitham Haddad (Copyright © Haitham Haddad, 2021)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in May 2020 after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

jl@itsnicethat.com

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