Arabic book cover designs, something maybe most people haven’t given much thought, are now the forefront of conversation thanks to the efforts of Egyptian designer Moe Elhossieny, whose tireless work to archive them have given us easy access to something hitherto hidden.
It started with a walk. A lot of great ideas often do. Elhossieny would walk around his native Cairo’s emporium-like book markets and lose himself in the variety and bravery of design on display. Despite some of the books he found being old, published from relatively unknown houses, their design caught his eye as something he hadn't really seen before.
What was a ‘thing’, his walks, soon became a faithful practice that borders on an obsession. Having graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins in Graphic Communication Design, he knows a thing or two about things that look good and things that get their point across. These books, which would otherwise have remained almost anonymous, show staggering foresight into current design trends.
Loud and almost Dada inspired compositions are complimented by eccentric typographic accompaniments, drawing on the rich history of the Arab world, in both it’s luscious type and swathe of dramatic imagery.
Although it began with admiration for the design, having scanned around 1,000 books with his team, Elhossieny plans to get closer to the 5,000 mark to be able to begin identifying trends, styles, certain markers of what makes Arabic book cover designs so quintessentially Arabic. Certainly it’s clear to see, but the Egypt-born designer is more eager to know.
Viewing this project on a grander scale, it is an important piece of research that looks to plug a hole in a gap in the way Arabic design is recorded and understood. Basically, there are no structures there to do have done so - until now. By pursuing this endeavour so relentlessly, there is a tangible feeling that something important is unfolding.
These cover designs will feed into a larger context of the exploration of Arabic design, with written contributions that delve into the minutiae of how it all came to be, challenging the Western-centric perspective on design that exists not because of its superiority, but because of its visibility.
Levelling the playing field, championing the unheard, however you would like to see it, Elhossieny is creating something that designers from all over the world can draw inspiration from, something that could, in time, begin to reshape the design landscape.
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