Based in Beirut, Journal Safar is a biannual and bilingual publication created to give agency to graphic design as a field that plays an integral and important role in cultural production – specifically regional cultural production. Taking its name from the Arabic word for travel, the title refers to notions of communication, especially across the disciplinal, cultural, and linguistic boundaries that the Arabic-English magazine intends to promote.
“There is a significant lack of documentation on graphic design in this region and, more widely, a lack of documentation on creativity in general in the Middle East,” co-founder Maya Moumne tells It’s Nice That. “This is because of a history of denying the region agency, and creativity is one of the most basic forms of agency. So Journal Safar exists to assert the relevance and strength of this creativity."
The magazine is published by Studio Safar, which was formed in 2012 by Maya, whose background is in graphic design and creative direction, and her friend and colleague Hatem Imam, a fellow graphic designer and visual artist. Alongside a team that includes writers and other designers and directors, the duo has to date released four issues of Journal Safar. Each issue invites designers, writers, thinkers, and other creatives to respond to the set theme or to explore a specific topic. These are then bound together (literally) and united with the journal’s overarching bold design.
The most recent issue, Nostalgia, features transcribed interviews, a graphic design research article accompanied by colourful scans of old Arabic film posters, photographs of Maurizio Cattelan and Lebanese drag queens, an interview with RuPaul, photographs of Palestine from the National Geographic society’s archives, research on and scans of old Arabic children’s book cover designs, and more.
Speaking on the challenges of making an independent publication in Beirut, Maya says the difficulties are the same as anywhere else. “Finding sustainable financial support, getting your name out, and distributing the magazine is hard,” she explains. “The most recent issue was the first time that we included ads in our publication, and we were very careful to ensure that the companies and organisations who advertised with us share similar values and motivations.
” That being said, the journal’s circulation is growing issue by issue and shows no signs of stopping, which Maya says “helps greatly”. With a fifth issue on the theme of migration coming in October, she tells us that the studio is also experiencing positive growth: “We have plans to start an online magazine, facilitate more public talks, and launch a publishing house.”
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