At the intersection of cultural identity, oppression, and design, the following thesis explores how first-person storytelling can be used to promote diverse and underrepresented narratives. Centering on the systematic suppression of Palestinian voices and direct cultural erasure occurring within the West Bank and Israel, a design solution was created following months’ worth of literary and field research on location in the Middle East. The solution creates space for unique perspectives and varied experiences while paying homage to a specific Palestinian cultural artform. The thesis and design solution are dedicated to Palestinians and their fight for freedom and opportunity.
The following thesis explores two fields (culture and design) and their overlap to gain a more nuanced and authentic understanding of how culture can be presented visually. From the focal point of the Middle East – Israel and Palestine respectively – this research aims to explore how design and visual language can be used as tools for representation within a diverse, and often oppressive cultural landscape. The topic considers how the element of fear leads to misrepresentation and continued oppression/dehumanization for Palestinians, particularly those living in the West Bank and Gaza. Centering on the concept of misrepresentation, a design ideation and solution unfolds motivated by accurate portrayal, preservation, and celebration of Palestinian culture and identity. The design solution, Spoken Tatreez, is an online platform that combines the art of Palestinian embroidery – tatreez – with modern stories of Palestinians. Traditionally, tatreez was used to tell stories through the use of motifs and colored threads. A trained eye could determine where a woman was from and her marital status simply by ‘reading’ the patterns that adorned her dress. Using this same concept of storytelling, Spoken Tatreez allows Palestinians to share their own stories of identity, hope, occupation and the future symbolized by unique color palettes and traditional motifs combined in modern ways. Each story is recorded and analyzed for color-coded keywords (family, hope, identity etc.) and locations that will make up the palette of each individual tatreez as well as the available traditional motifs. All tatreez will be displayed on the Spoken Tatreez platform as part of an ongoing digital tapestry. In highlighting one aspect of Palestinian culture and creating space for the modern Palestinian experience, it is possible to facilitate more authentic representation. The project aims to provide connection and a diversified narrative for Palestinians as well as awareness and solidarity for external audiences.
Problem Framing Statement
As our world becomes more globalized, modernized and diverse, it becomes easy to lose sight of the identities and narratives that give context to our experiences. As designers, it is important to understand the unique factors that influence cultural identity to better serve localized audiences rather than applying cookie-cutter solutions that promote Westernized ideals and assumptions. Additionally, space should be made to promote increased and varied representation in what design is and looks like from a cultural perspective.
The methodology for research in this thesis was conducted in a variety of ways. Initially, research was primarily literary based with emphasis placed on visual design and communication, sociology, cross-cultural communication, and the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The idea here was to gain a wider understanding of the pre-existing information surrounding the diverse elements that make up ‘culture’ and ultimately how culture is visualized. Additionally, it was important to become educated on the complexities and parallel narratives of the conflict prior to going out into the field and determining a design solution. It was possible to better contextualize individual findings and further focus a design outcome by becoming more familiar with what research already exists and where gaps in information lay. The secondary portion of research and final design outcome was more hands-on with travel within Israel and the West Bank to talk with Palestinians and collect their stories. Methods for collecting stories relied primarily on chance encounters and meeting individuals in the community willing to share their experiences. The design outcome utilized wireframing, visual design, experimental coding and information architecture to create a functioning product prototype ready for professional development in the future.
As with the methodology, the research question(s) can also be separated into two distinct areas (one more theoretical while the other remains more experimental in nature). The first question mirrors the literary and background re-search of this project — How can culture and design be intertwined and how does a culture of fear influence visual representation? After a thorough understanding of the effects of misrepresentation and culture within design, further exploration will then focus on — How can design be used as a tool to promote cultural identity and accurate representation in the face of oppression and cultural erasure? Relevancy The importance of culturally inclusive design, in terms of process, outcomes and identities is one which is slowly becoming more and more apparent. Representation, awareness, and acknowledgment of varied narratives in the field of design are fundamental in creating a more inclusive and authentic space for both designers and their diverse audiences. By highlighting the unique history and cultural fabric of the Middle East, a region that has historically been overlooked from a design perspective, it will be possible to foster connections and insights for authentic visual representation and identities.
The project was supervised by Prof. Iris Utikal and Jimmy Elias.