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© Arabic Design Archive
© Arabic Design Archive

Archives are part of the collective memory. They not only preserve and reflect the past, they also constitute the present and help shape the future. “Our supposed identity,” the prologue of a manifesto on the Arabic Design Archive page reads, “is in a dormant state. Even the aspiration of what it could be has been obscured and obfuscated. Even the scant traces of our history have been removed from us, fragmented, scratched and disposed of. The challenge we face is much greater than ever before, and it will therefore be much more glorious if we overcome it. Once again we are being forced to witness our identities being shaped by the Western gaze on our societies and cultures.” The manifesto contains a promise of emancipation and calls for regaining sovereignty over one’s own history.

The digital Arabic Design Archive (ADA) is a non-profit initiative that collects graphic works by Arab designers from the 20th century and makes them accessible on a website. The archive aims to provide an open platform for graphic objects and generate knowledge about Arabic design and its history through collecting, digitising and exhibiting. The ADA was founded in early 2020 by Egyptian designer, historian and researcher Moe Elhossieny to make the limited historical resources on Arab design accessible. Elhossieny initially focused on the collection of Arabic book bindings. Since then, Arab designers and researchers in Cairo, Beirut, Jerusalem, Casablanca and Vancouver have been involved in an international team. Since 2021, works from various collections have been digitised and restored. The website can be browsed using filters, and individual works can be requested in high resolution for non-commercial purposes. However, works can also be submitted in order to increase the collection. Articles and essays also provide information on the latest research and current events.

The project, according to the website, “follows a rhizomatic concept of knowledge production that describes a theory and methodology that, in contrast to a hierarchical concept of knowledge production, allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in the representation and interpretation of data. A stance that works towards a decentralised process of knowledge production.” Backed by a “story from below”, the community invites people to participate and be part of the project.

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