Iran’s stunning contemporary graphic design is virtually unknown in the West. But there is some light emerging. Over the past few years, books showcasing Iranian graphic design, posters, calligraphy and typography have been published in the West, opening a very rich vein of design that combines tradition and modernity. And one of the best places to view this work is Iran’s first and only graphic design magazine, Neshan. (Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the magazine.)
A cover design for Neshan, the Iranian graphic design magazine.
Smartly designed and edited in Farsi with English summaries, Neshan made its debut in 2003 after a group of graphic designers decided that Iran needed a design magazine that was aimed at both domestic and international audiences. It was founded by the leading players in Iran’s design scene: Majid Abbasi, Saed Meshki, Morteza Momayez (who died in 2005), Ali Rashidi, Firouz Shafei and Iraj Zargami. The most important role was played by Momayez, a renowned Iranian book and book-cover designer, as editor in chief. He formatted Neshan to be at once distinctly Iranian and decidedly modern in its simplicity. “He exerted his entire knowledge and expertise for the improvement and enrichment of Neshan,” says Abbasi, who now lives in Canada. (After Momayez’s death, the magazine’s editorial board took over his responsibilities.)
A spread from an article on contemporary Iranian graphic design.
Neshan is available in a beautiful print edition and in an online version. The magazine showcases the diversity of the Iranian graphic design community and its projects, covering subjects like the Tehran Metro Signage System or Iranian magazine title design, but also focuses on Western influences, including stories on “visual research” in Amsterdam.
Neshan is essentially a contemporary journal, but it also looks back at Iran’s visual-script heritage, which encompasses miniatures, page decoration and calligraphy. As a rule, Abbasi explains, “Neshan presents a new description of them in today’s context. But it is not always very fruitful to look at these sources and use them.” He insists that history only goes so far in defining contemporary design: “Originality does not have the past values as its only source; it is a concept related to the present time, which is rooted in a fruitful past with all its heritage.”
Neshan also covers international graphic design; shown here is an interview with the designer Luke Hayman, a partner in Pentagram.
Modern graphic design started in Iran about 80 years ago, with the advent of machine printing and its ability to produce faithful copies of works of art. During the last 50 years, illustration has become more simplified and stylized in a contemporary manner, or what Abbasi calls “a post-Islamic originality of Iranian arts through today’s techniques and definitions of graphic design.”
Since Neshan is independent of the official government, religious or cultural establishment, it is financed by its founders, some advertising and subscriptions in Iran. But Neshan is still subject to social, religious and cultural limitations. “Sometimes our friends who visited Iran compared it with Eastern European countries during Socialism in the ’50s though the ’70s,” says Abbasi, referring specifically to the poster explosion in Communist Poland, “which is the same with a situation in Iran.”
“Limitations,” he continues, “are causes of finding creative solution. So, we know very well the way of censorship and adapt ourselves with it.”
Abbasi is optimistic about Neshan’s future, within reason. “The main problem is budget. We couldn’t pay the cost of writing to anybody. Actually each of the five [surviving] co-founders are working on the magazine with all their passions. So, I am sure that Neshan is one of the best professional and artistic magazines, not only in Iran but in the Middle East.”
Via NY Times