About ‘A History of Arab Graphic Design’


“An essential new textbook”—Steven Heller

The Prose Award

A History of Arab Graphic Design by Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar (AUC Press 2020) has won the Art History & Criticism category in the 2021 PROSE Awards organized by the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

A panel of 23 judges selected A History of Arab Graphic Design and other 44 winning books from a total of 130 Finalists from an overall pool of 595 entries for this year’s PROSE Awards competition.

“These 45 works all represent exceptional scholarship, and significant contributions to their various fields,” commented Syreeta Swann, vice president of programs and administration, AAP. “We are delighted to announce this year’s Subject Category Winners and look forward to announcing the next round of PROSE honors—the Excellence Award Winners—next month.”

This is the first-ever book-length history of Arab graphic design, which traces the people and events that were integral to the shaping of the field in the Arab world. Examining the work of over eighty key designers from Morocco to Iraq, and covering the period from pre-1900 to the end of the twentieth century, Shehab and Nawar chart the development of design in the region, beginning with Islamic art and Arabic calligraphy, and their impact on Arab visual culture, through to the digital revolution and the arrival of the Internet.




The Authors

Bahia Shehab is professor and founder of the graphic design program at the American University in Cairo. An artist, designer, and art historian, her work has received a number of international awards, including a TED Senior Fellowship, a Prince Claus Award, and the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture.  Her other publications include A Thousand Times NO: The Visual History of Lam-Alif (2010).



Haytham Nawar 
is chair of the department of the arts at the American University in Cairo and the founder and artistic director of Cairotronica, a festival of electronic and new media arts in Cairo. An artist, designer, and Fulbright scholar, his work has been shown at many local and international exhibitions. His research interests include design history and practices with a focus on the Arab world and Africa.



The Events


On June 1, as part of their Book Conversation series, the Africa Institute in Sharjah invited the authors to talk about Arab graphic design and their book. The event was moderated by Salah M. Hassan, distinguished professor of arts and sciences in Africana Studies, director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities (ICM), and professor of art history and visual culture in the Africana Studies and Research Center, and the Department of History of Art and Visual Studies, at Cornell University. Click here to watch the recording on Youtube.



On March 25, as part of the American University in Cairo North America webinar series, AUC invited AUC professors Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar to discuss the economic, social, and political circumstances which led to the emergence of graphic design as a method of communication and an art form. The discussion was moderated by Nadia Naqib, AUC Press senior commissioning editor. Watch the recording. 



On February 2, Journal Safar, a graphic design and visual culture publication based in Beirut, held a live conversation on Instagram with Haytham Nawar. Watch the recording.

On January 26, Letterform Archive, a nonprofit center for inspiration, education, publishing, and community in graphic design and type, based in San Francisco, invited the authors to give a talk about the ‘Masters of Arabic Letters,’ an online event that was followed by over 250 attendees.
Here is the recording.


Book launch of A History of Arab Graphic Design held at SHELTER Art Space in Alexandria, on January 21, 2021. Haytham Nawar gave an illustrated talk and later answered questions from the audience.




On November 28, 2020, AUC Press celebrated the launch of  A History of Arab Graphic Design, with the authors. The event was held in Ewart Hall, on Cairo’s AUC Tahrir Campus, and in the presence of almost a hundred attendees, from graphic design students and professors, to journalists and friends of AUC Press.

The authors dedicated their hour-long presentation “to all the forgotten Arab designers,” noting that their book is “only the beginning,” since many more designers from the Arab world still merit wider recognition.





The Book Extract

A History of Arab Graphic Design traces the people and events that were integral to the shaping of a field of graphic design in the Arab world. Examining the work of over eighty key designers from Morocco to Iraq, and covering the period from pre-1900 to the end of the twentieth century, Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar chart the development of design in the region, beginning with Islamic art and Arabic calligraphy, and their impact on Arab visual culture, through to the digital revolution and the arrival of the Internet. They look at how cinema, economic prosperity, and political and cultural events gave birth to and shaped the founders of Arab graphic design. Read an extract.



From left to right: folio from Qur’an, early Kufic style, Abbasid dynastiy; newspaper gift insert, calligraphy by Yusuf Ahmad and Sayed Ibrahim, year unknown; advertisement for Waked’s al-Hilal Arabic typewriter, early XX century.


From left to right: poster designed by Dia al-Azzawi, 1976; poster designed by Mohammed Melehi, 1966;
book cover and illustrations designed by Hassan Musa, 1981.


Various posters for the Palestinian cause. From left to right: Burhan Karkutli, 1978; Youssef Abdelké, 1981;
Mona Saudi, 1975, Mohammed Melehi, 1985; Hilmi al-Touni, 1985


From left to right: Al-Musawwar cover, 1956; Ghazal al-banat press book cover, 1949; Sindibad children’s magazine, designed by Hussein Bicar, year unknown.


Designs by Rana Salam Studio. Left: Harvey Nichols store window, 1995; right: design for Bassam Fattouh Cosmetics, 2013.


The Reviews

“Easily the best introduction to the history of modern Arab visual culture on the market today.”—N.A. Mansour, PhD candidate at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies, The Brooklyn Rail magazine, April 21

An overdue Arab design history book . . . an essential new textbook for students and graphic designers from East and West.”—Steven Heller, Print magazine


“[O]ffers a thus far missing genealogy of Arab graphic design . . . a major feat.”—Nourhan Tewfik, The National


“A landmark . . . recommended . . . This book gives a much-needed visual overview of several generations of Arab graphic designers working in Arab countries and in different diasporas and exiles. It builds a history of Arab graphic design from the origins of printing through the 21st century, bringing the work of graphic designers across the region into conversation.” ―Marcia Lynx Qualey, Al-Fanar Media


“Closing the gap on the history of Arab graphic design . . . with over 370 pages and 600 color illustrations, A History of Arab Graphic Design is an invaluable resource.”―Ghalia Elsrakbi, Futuress magazine


‘Release Radar: The First Ever Book on Arab Graphic Design History’  Noran Alaa Morsi, Egyptian Streets



The Interviews

“I devoured the whole thing in one sitting. It’s such a friendly and easy read—it’s like reading a story.”—Tala Safie, graphic designer and art director from Beirut, during this interview with Bahia Shehab, for AIGA Eye on Design, April 29, 2021


‘Documenting a Century of Design Inspiration‘—Matt Lamont speaks to the authors “to find out more” in an interview for Design Reviewed, April 14, 2021


Jadaliyya interviews Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar, April 7, 2021


Bahia Shehab interviews Helmi El Touni, Egyptian artist, illustrator and graphic designer, June 19, 2015