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Illustrating the Middle East: 5 Female Digital Artists Tackling Social Change

July 8, 2020
Illustration by Nour Flayhan for Gucci Beauty via Grazia ME.

Illustration is one of the cornerstones of Instagram, featuring motivational comics, drawings of public figures, educational graphics and more. The medium is used to integrate visuals in text-based content across disciplines, from activism to mental health platforms and fictional stories. In the region, attention is frequently diverted away from art; it is often underrated, so EgyptianStreets is highlighting five talented female illustrators from the Middle East that share their work online and call for a sort of social change in their creations.

1. Nour Flayhan

Nour Flayhan tackles topics from the Lebanese revolution to personal visual diary entries to profiles of significant personalities in very recent history. Among those represented are black people in the U.S. tragically shot by police, protesters, Egyptian icons of LGBT solidarity, and icons of representation of the Middle East in the West. The Lebanese artist recently partnered with Gucci Beauty creating illustrations representing Arab women’s beauty against traditional standards of the West. According to an interview with Grazia ME, her series was made in hopes to “use poetry to spread warmth and hope in others”.

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Sneak peak to a print for a collaboration for Eid that I’ll be sharing, that you can get your hands on #nourieillustrations

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2. Rama Duwaji

Rama Duwaji is a Syrian artist based between Dubai and Washington DC. Her work revolves around the diaspora experience and misogyny in communities of color.

Her most recent project was illustrating the video for called “Mesh Hastanna“, a song by Felukah, Egyptian hip-hop artist, in collaboration with global Islamic feminist movement Musawah. The song calls for equality and justice in regards to family laws for women living in Muslim communities. Aside from commissions, Duwaji creates graphic novels targeted at Arab children. Her work is often published in the UK’s Galdem online magazine.

3. Deena Mohamed

Deena Mohamed is an Egyptian comic artist based in Cairo. She has published two graphic novels in Arabic so far, with their translations coming next year. ES spoke with her earlier this year about Shubeik Lubeik, her graphic novel trilogy about a world where wishes can be bought and used. The novels speak of mental health, specifically depression, and addresses its stigma in Egyptian society. She also includes crafted satire on the issue of classism that is omnipresent in Cairo’s culture.

Her career in comics began with a Tumblr webcomic called Qahera, where the titular main character is a Muslim superwoman who combats political and social issues. Mohamed often works on a variety of commissioned illustrations, such as the Google Doodle for Mufidah AbdulRahman or a comic series with HarassMap, a technology non-profit initiative combating harassment, about consent.


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مرة كمان: مش انت اللي بتقرر انت بتضايق الشخص اللي قدامك ولا لأ. النية أقل أهمية من النتيجة. #art #arabiccomics #comics

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4. Sheyam Ghieth

Sheyam Gheith is an Egyptian-American graphic designer likely most known from her work on Ramy, Egyptian-American Golden Globe-winning comedian Ramy Youssef’s Hulu TV series.

Ghieth is the artist responsible for the typographic English and Arabic visuals seen in the intros and outros. She also creates typographic art on her Instagram featuring simple statements varying from humor, motivational posts and art supporting the queer community.


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Out on @hulu today! Delighted I got to design something so close to home with some of my favorite people. Go watch so we can start on S2 🤞🏽. #ramy

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5. Mona Chalabi

Mona Chalabi is a British visual and data journalist of Iraqi descent. She actively creates statistic-driven visual pieces on her Instagram profile depicting current political situations in the U.S. and worldwide.

She illustrates topics from American police brutality to systemic racism and mental health. She has also recently created instructional illustrations providing information on COVID-19 and its symptoms. She has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times and multiple more publications.


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A vaccine is still a long way off, so for now at least, the hope is to repurpose existing drugs to treat COVID-19 and save lives. But those existing drugs are priced stupidly high. No, it’s not because patents, research, import costs, _____ (fill in the blank with another reason). It’s greed. Let’s take one example, remdesivir (not illustrated here because we only have US data for this drug): 💊 Remdesivir is made by a company called Gilead Sciences. 💊Gilead received at least $79 million from the US government to fund their research into making this drug. 💊 The FDA has given Gilead an exclusive right to produce remdesivir. 💊 Gilead said it would *not* be providing emergency access to the drug to help people with COVID-19. It has now said it will donate its supply to government after widespread criticism. 💊 A course of remdesivir would cost $9 (that figure includes the cost of production *and* a 10% profit markup for Gilead) 💊 Gilead reported $5 billion in profit last year. All of this means that the health inequalities we’re seeing now won’t just disappear if we manage to develop a treatment. Your chances of surviving COVID-19 will be affected by how much money you have in your bank account. Source: Hill et al, Journal of Virus Eradication 2020 (this study was just published – very grateful to Dr Jacob Levi for sending it my way)

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