From Rihanna at Barnbrook Studios, to a queer Arab archive: Marwan Kaabour’s graphic design is incredibly bold

Marwan’s embrace of the “eclectic approach” can be in-part traced back to their time working for Barnbrook Studios. “It was absolutely dreamy,” they tell us. “I remember learning about the work of Jonathan Barnbrook and the studio back at university, and I was compelled by the political and socially engaged work they did, and continue to do.” Marwan was lucky enough to intern there in 2012, citing it as their “dream job” under Jonathan. “Jonathan put a lot of trust in me and gave me creative freedom and authorship, which is rare in the industry,” Marwan says. “The studio is pretty small, so the designer ends up getting involved in project management, production, sourcing material, and liaising with the client.” Eventually staying there for seven years, it’s safe to say Marwan accrued an immense amount of knowledge from the studio. It’s evident in how grateful he remains towards them. “I was able to see a concrete example of a successful design studio that has a strong moral compass and takes its ethical responsibility very seriously,” they add. “And of course, I had the honour of working with Rihanna, the V&A, Art Basel, Somerset House, and Banksy amongst others.”
Of course, the talents of Marwan do not simply stop at his ability to collaborate with a client. His own personal digital platform, Takweer, launched in September 2019 “primarily as an Instagram page” that works to “find, share and explore queer narratives in Arab history and popular culture.” By utilising the format of Instagram, Takweer accumulates a growing archive of these narratives. “It came out of a personal frustration of the lack of accessible resources and references that speak about the queer Arab experience,” they explain. “It is also meant to challenge the dominant narrative of Arab and Muslim communities being intrinsically and historically homophobic, sexist and backwards.” Takweer is now a space that allows for queer Arabs within the region and queer Arabs in the diaspora to come together and discuss these issues. “Takweer is a space where I can use my skills as a storyteller and graphic designer to give visual form to stories, histories and anecdotes that might otherwise go unnoticed, or forever relegated to inaccessible academic texts.”
From Takweer, Marwan has received “overwhelmingly positive feedback from queer Arab individuals all over the world,” which cements the project as their most “personal and imitate” to date. “The second step is to develop projects with more focus, which I have begun with the very first Takweer publication that is now underway,” Marwan adds. “The Queer Arab Glossary is a publication that attempts to compile, explore and understand the lexicon used to refer to people from the LGBTQIA+ community from across the Arabic-speaking world.” Such a genuine infusion of passion, curiosity, and discovery has come to be Marwan’s forte. From Takweer to his graphic design, it’s always those three components which lie at the forefront of his vision. “The question I always ask myself is: what do I want the viewers to feel when they look at a piece of design? Rather than what looks the nicest,” he says. “Of course, you want to end up with sexy and visually appealing work, but it falls flat for me if that’s the end of it.”

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