Graphic designer Nawal Arafat on creating space for Palestinian voices within art and design
Palestinian and Israeli-based multidisciplinary designer Nawal Arafat creates graphics that bridge gaps in cultural communication.
- Joey Levenson
- 8 July 2021
Based in Israel and originally from Palestine, multidisciplinary graphic artist Nawal Arafat comes fresh off a recent feature at the London Biennale 2021. With a strong background in graphic design, Nawal is one of the few Palestinian graphic designers working in Israel today. She originally honed her craft “specialising in high-end printed productions,” and “building graphic languages for community centres” in her neighbourhood, she tells It’s Nice That. As her career has progressed, Nawal has become an artist in her own right and she’s had several of her graphic works exhibited around Israel. “I’m passionate about texts and languages, and researching about the locations and ways in which the Arabic language exists in public spaces,” she says. “Most of my work involves trilingual design that strives to make connections between different backgrounded societies, and encourages discourses about political and cultural issues.”
As a Palestinian living in Israel, Nawal has found living the life of an oppressed minority to be something which she reflects in her artistic output. “I have to fight for my rights and speak on behalf of others that can’t speak up,” Nawal explains. Hence, in her mesmerising typographic works, an emotive and powerful weight is carried forward – much unlike most typography in her contemporary.
On her visual style, Nawal explains that she doesn’t define this “but I can tell that letters and graphic shapes excite me more than other terms or sessions in the visual communication field,” she says. “Typography was always my passion, such as making images and playing with fonts, especially connections between different languages.” The reliance on graphic shapes and letters to tell a story that bridges gaps between communication comes from her own direct lived experiences. “As a Palestinian living in Israeli territories, I am dealing with unstoppable questions about my identity definition and with inequality when it comes to citizenship,” she explains. It’s why she started the project 48, an independent publishing house and magazine that got its name from the Palestinians living and working in Israel after the occupation in 1948. “The purpose of this project was to provide a platform for Palestinian citizens bearing the Blue Certificate,” she says, referring to the colour of Israeli identification cards. “48 gives Palestinian writers, singers, and artists from different areas a platform to present their work about various topics through each issue’s theme,” Nawal explains. “Every issue deals with different types of texts, some include articles, songs, and even posts from Facebook.”
Nawal’s 48 is a journey through Palestinian art and culture, as it regularly explores generations of Palestinians in the spaces of their hybrid identity as they move through Israeli-occupied land. “Every issue challenges the format by choosing different materials and folding techniques,” she says. On top of 48, Nawal most recently worked with Designers in the Middle, “a non-political platform, a bridging tool communicating design and craft as a common language to strengthen collaborations, cultural development, and diversity in the Middle East and North Africa region.” With curators Rona Kobelenz and Suzanne Trochme, Nawal worked with Arab designers from Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Qatar. “As a Palestinian, it was a huge and exciting thing for me exploring their works and process, an opportunity that I can’t experience because of the restrictions I have regarding travelling to these places,” Nawal explains.
With them, Nawal thus produced a graphic poster to be featured in the London Design Biennale. “The theme in the biennale was the Casbah,” she says. “A Casbah is an ‘Old City’, enclosed, walled, where citizens meet to work, to do business, to trade and to play, and where nomadic stories are told.” Her work was based on creating a layering effect for the brand identity of Designers in the Middle, as well as a poster that celebrates the themes of a Casbah. “For the Casbah, grid, diversity, orientation and stability led me to create an imaginary graphic space which gathers all of these terms through exploring the direction of reading, revealing layers on top of one another, and searching for the horizontal and vertical combination of lines,” she tells us.
As for what’s next, Nawal hopes to continue working “with a wide range of projects by meeting clients from different places with different backgrounds and stories,” she says. “I want to expand and enrich the knowledge and of course, to continue creating and working for the sake of community, social and political change and thus encourage a meaningful discourse about design and its place in good changes.”
Nawal Arafat: 48 Publishing House 5 (Copyright © Nawal Arafat, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, 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.