NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 38

Iranian Contemporary Design

Iman Safai

Ali Bakhtiari

The current article focuses on Iman Safai’s graphic designs for art and cultural centers, and on a few of his bodies of work.In his teenage years, Iman Safai recognized that he would not become a doctor or an engineer. Thanks to his father’s job, he spent his summers in the cultural center of the head office of the Ministry of Education, helping the center’s designer and, in the meantime, amateurishly experiencing calligraphy, fabric banner writing, and drawing. He completed his high school education in the Malek Ashtar Vocational School and completed an internship in a lithography and printing office, through which he became familiar with printing techniques and processes. After gaining an associate degree from the Islamic Azad University of Sari and doing military service, he began exploring different fields of design and painting, and designed for the student associations of Amirkabir University of Technology.
    Having gained experience in the vocational school and the university, and just when Iman had decided to become a painter for the rest of his life, his professional work in cultural graphic design commenced with a poster he designed for the Makous Sculpture Group’s exhibition in the Assar Art Gallery in 2006. This poster was commissioned to Iman due to his friendship with this group of sculptors, and based on Parviz Tanavoli’s recommendation. It is considered a turning point in Iman’s professional life. The poster consisted of a photograph of cast metal types put together to form the group’s name, Makous (i.e. reverse), which is inspired by a bronze casting process. Omid Tehrani, director of the Assar Art Gallery, was impressed by the poster; so a short while after the Makous Exhibition, Iman was put in charge of the Gallery’s graphic design. Assar Art Gallery and Iman Safai were perhaps the first case of a serious collaboration between a gallery and a designer to create the gallery’s graphic products with a certain visual identity –a practice that is today considered one of the major components any Iranian gallery. After reviewing the form and style of the Gallery’s catalogues, he defined a new system that included: typography of the artist’s name on the catalogue cover, a picture of the studio in the two first pages, and the description and the statement box, which allowed expression whilst not interfering with space allotted to displaying the work. Over ten years, the visual identity collection of the Assar Gallery experienced several changes, including: catalogue and invitation card sizes, papers and cardboards, cover and page, and poster layouts. The series of catalogue covers for the Etemad Gallery had a freer structure compared to the graphics of the Assar Art Gallery, although their images and typography were equally taken into consideration.

    In 2007, Iman met Nader Tabassi, the director of Mahriz Publications. Mahriz, which had been an established publisher with a particular visual identity, asked Iman to join as a designer and art director. Following a tough and bold decision, Iman accepted and redesigned the graphic system of Mahriz. This was one of the key points in Iman’s résumé. The diversity of Mahriz’s productions provided endless possibilities for new experiences. In designing new layouts, dividers, and illustrations, Iman extended the design of literary books (which had been generally restricted to the front and back covers) to the interior parts, and made use of the spine as an active space, not confined to simply giving information. In the design of the book Mondo and Other Stories, he eliminated the cover and transferred the beginning of the story directly onto the book cover. Another noteworthy part of Iman’s design practice in Mahriz was CD package design. Iman considered the whole CD package – including the disk, the front and back covers, and the box — as a white canvas, and approached product design through pure graphic design. Examples of these innovations were the designs on the discs, the folding brochures which were placed in the spine of the CD box, folded posters as album covers, elimination of covers, and silk screen printing on the box.
    Iman has also performed the art direction of Mohsen Gallery, Shirin Art Gallery, and Agah Publishing House. He has held two exhibitions of his work: a poster exhibition called Bathing, in the Niavaran Cultural Center’s pool in 2007; and Ten Years of Graphic Design in the Assar Art Gallery in 2016.
    Type plays a prominent role in the general aesthetic iconography of Iman’s graphic design. This eternal obsession might stem from his adolescent experience in calligraphy, fabric banner writing, and script enlargement. As a rule, Iman attempts to create images with type. In his series of covers for the Assar Art Gallery’s catalogues, he showed this concern with constant maintenance of a conceptual-visual link between typography and the works of artists. He alludes to the symmetry of Islamic architecture by mirroring through type (See the cover of Women’s Capabilities, the group sculpture exhibition of the Artists’ Association, the poster of the World Design Day, and the cover of When the Moon Whispers CD). He draws inspiration from industrial and urban environments, and demonstrates the contemporary entropy via short and broad strokes and the thickness of letterforms and their backgrounds (See the cover of Ferre Forgée CD, the poster of the sculpture exhibition of the Third Generation and Parviz Tanavoli, the cover of Death and the Maiden). When he uses typeless images in his designs, they usually tend to reinforce the effect of typography (See the poster of Mahriz Photography Contest –Man and Woman, the poster of the Still Life exhibition, and the cover of Do Vâleh CD). In general, Iman’s graphic design is consistent with the archetypal goal of graphic design; that is, providing the correct information in line with the work at hand.

Ali Bakhtiari

is a Tehran based curator focused on cultural studies and modern and contemporary art. He collaborated with many international museums and centers such as Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, British Museum, Museo MAXXI and Centre Georges Pompidou. He founded ABBookness project in 2011 which is the first Middle Eastern project collaborating with artist on publication of Artist Books. ABBookness already publishe d works of artists such as Farideh Lashai, Parviz Tanavoli, Parvaneh Etemadi and Ali Akbar Sadeghi.

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