Dive into the Syrian Stamp Archive for some bite-sized insights into Syria’s design history
We catch up with the talented team behind The Syrian Design Archive to take a closer look at their collection of stamps dating back 100 years.
- Elfie Thomas
- 9 March 2022
Last year we met the small team of “three patient ladies” making the cogs turn behind the Syrian Design Archive. With expertise in graphic design, architecture and digital advocacy, Kinda Ghannoum, Hala Al Afsaa and Sally Alassafen are a force to be reckoned with. Setting out to tackle the lack of cultural resources documenting Syria’s rich design history, they dedicated themselves to gathering posters, book covers, media and stamps and making them accessible for students and researchers as well as the general public.
Catching up with the team, we asked them to discuss their stamp archive. Among the diverse disciplines which the Syrian Design Archive covers, its stamp collection has the largest historical scope, with examples dating back to 1919. With their perfectly-formed miniature designs, encapsulating bite-sized insights into a nation’s cultural evolution, stamp collections are always popular with creatives. Asking the team to discuss some of their favourite stamps, the archivists highlighted artworks which celebrate the “richness” of Syrian culture.
“Many of the designers who practised design in Syria were artists by profession”, says Kinda. This means that tracking down the names of artists who designed each stamp is often high up on the team’s agenda. Removing these stamps from anonymity means that the archive helps to map the cultural contributions of the creatives which have enriched Syria’s design history in the past century. The team often enlists the help of the Syrian Philatelic Club to do this. “We also want the audience to be involved in the process of building this archive,” she adds. Turning to the assistance of the general public to amass its quickly growing archives, the team ensures that they are created “by the people and for the people”.
One of the more famous artists that the team have attributed stamps to is Abou Subhi al-Tinawi. Sally tells us that he was “fascinated by traditional verses and stories” and became “the most prominent Arab folk artist in Syria”. Known for his use of bright colours, simple yet powerful compositions and the understated facial expressions of his figures, the artist designed a vibrant series of stamps which was printed in 1970. The series showcases dynamic battle scenes from Syrian folk stories, offering an insight into Syria’s literary heritage as well as its visual history.
Another aspect contributing to the archive’s value as a historical resource is how the designs document technological innovations and cultural events in Syria’s history like the annual International Fair of Damascus, International Children’s day and the 50th anniversary of the Chess Union. The team points out the series designed for the 20th Damascus International fair of 1973, which depicts women dressed in traditional clothing from different cities around Syria. In 1987 another set of stamps were designed for the International Fair. Hala points us to a stamp featuring “traditional patterns with bright colours” which “give this stamp its own beauty”.
Initially conceived from Kinda’s personal stamp-collecting hobby, the archive has now blossomed into an increasingly well-documented resource of Syrian design history. Galvanised by the team’s interest in asking questions like: “what is culture and what are the elements that help shape someone's identity?”, the archive looks set to have a bright future. Hoping to move from social media platforms to developing their own website, the team also plans to publish a book of their findings.
International Children's Day stamp, 1969 (Copyright © The Syrian Stamp Archive, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.