NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 46/47


And What Was In Its Own Possession*

Alireza Mostafazadeh Ebrahimi

For sure, in Iran no medium as much as poetry could ever bear the task of transferring social, cultural, religious, political and ethical concepts through Iran’s tumultuous history from one generation to another. No other forms of art, whether it be visual arts or any other art, could occupy such status among the people. Poetry is so much interwoven into the fabric of Iranian society that is deemed to be inseparable from other forms of arts such as music, calligraphy, and handicraft. Poetry is ever-present in the lives of us Iranians until we die and even after we die, it is used and recited in our funeral services and then used as an epitaph on our graves. 

Words as the building blocks of poetry are put together in such manner that they not only express the themes, contents and poet’s sentiments but also attain a beautiful combination of sound and rhythm. Such appealing association is so much familiar for us, the designers, because in design especially graphic design, in order to transfer specific and pre-determined concept – contrary to the art – the designer also puts the visual elements together in such a manner to make it appealing to the audience’s sense of sight and aesthetics. If the design is considered as a combination of homogeneous elements in a beautiful format and as a new phenomenon to answer predetermined questions, many of the poems should also be regarded as the sublime example of such approach.
This comparison is not always true, because sometimes the poet just freely express his own feelings and sentiments about a very personal matter such as a lover, be it real or imaginary, and he doesn’t have any specific matter in mind for any specific reader, as a result, his poems have a clear standing in art. However, when the poet presents himself as a philosopher, mystic or social reformer in order to speak to enlighten people’s mind, explain some specific concept or give some practical advice, he enters a world where everything built there has a specific use and the beauty of the speech alone is not enough for the poetry elevation. This also applies to design.
In graphic design, the building blocks of design are shapes and forms which have a specific meaning or create a new meaning when put together, like the words which are put together to make hemistiches and verses. Sometimes, their elements symbolically refer to some concepts other than themselves. As in literature where sometimes words have their own specific meaning and sometimes, they connote a different meaning.
Although varied ways of interweaving these visual elements in graphic design or words in poetry together create different styles in both graphic design and poetry, as long as there is a meaningful and useful theme, their resemblance to one another is undeniable. It is interesting that these methods and devices in poetry and graphic are similar whether they aim to achieve the beauty in image or speech or transfer some messages or concepts. Some of these similarities are structures such as “combination”, “exaggeration”, “simile”, “pun”, “paradox”, “inversion” and “repetition” which in both poetry – under the title “figures of speech”- and graphic design are as illusionists’ tricks are at disposal of the poet or the graphic designer.

When two or more visual elements are combined, the result is a new visual element that although it is not either of the previous elements, it has attributes of both and represents a new concept. An example is the logo of the Iranian Railways which is a combination of a bird’s wings and a train’s wheel designed by Frederik Talberg.  

Also, in poetry, the poet creates a new word by combining two words to capture a new concept in the mind of the reader. For instance, the combination of “lion” with “heart” and “strong” and “head” in this poem by Ahmad Shamloo:
    Alas, what lion-hearted and strong-headed man
    You were
    And like a mountain
    Before falling into the ground
    Brave and steadfast
    You were already dead.

Exaggeration is to overstate a concept in design in a way that is completely impossible in reality and turn the subject matter into something interesting and memorable in the mind of the readers. Although the reader is aware of the fact that what he is faced with is not true and actually it is an exaggerated attribute, he enjoys it and understands its message. An example of which is the poster for Volume and Environments exhibition designed by Morteza Momayez in which there is a hand with eight fingers. It is also applied to literature. For instance, read this poem by Tarab Esfahani:
    If she dons with an attire made of rose petals
    Its delicacy will injure her body

Simile is to compare two different things and show a common quality between them. It is used very frequently both in literature and design. An example of a simile in graphic design is the well-known “Mother & Child” logo designed by Herb Lubalin where the “O” in the word mother is a womb for the word child.  An example of a simile in literature, we refer to is a verse from Shahnameh by Ferdowsi:
    Giv picks up a spear which was 
    As sharp as Ghouls’ teeth and Divs’ claws

Metaphor literally means borrowing, in other words, an attribute of a person or object is borrowed and used for another person and object. This definition applies to both literature and design. An example can the paper ship in the poster for “The Third Summer Festival of Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults” designed by Ebrahim Haghighi in which the paper which was associated with a summer break for children or this poem by Gheysar Aminpoor in which azure sphere is a metaphor for the earth:
    If there were no love,
    This azure sphere would have no color,
    And had been a nonexistent dot.
If two meanings are understood from one image, it means that there is a pun in it. This visual play invites the audience to discover the real meaning and hidden message of the image. In poster designed by Niklaus Troxler for Jimi Hendrix, the audience first sees the ink spot for a minute and then sees Hendrix’s face, as a result, designer’s intended aim is captured through this visual pun.
Such a device in poetry is used under the title of wordplay and the poet invites the reader to discover his message by using words or phrases with two or more meanings. An example of which can be a quatrain by Abu Sa’id Abu’l-Khayr:
    Oh, my beautiful Christian beloved!
    Come to me one night fearlessly,
    Sometimes, dry my teary eyes,
    Sometimes, put your moist lips on my dry lips.

Paradox is when two concepts exist simultaneously in an image which are impossible to be put together inside one image, this creates a challenge in the minds of the audience which at last is resolved and its hidden message is understood, it would remain in the minds of the audience due to the joy of discovery. An example of which is “War and Peace” poster designed by Luba Lukova, in this poster a dove which is the symbol of peace is made out of different weapons in a meaningful paradox. This also happens in poetry by combining two contradictory statements, an example of which is a poem by Mehdi Akhavan-Sales:
    Its robe is the mantle of nakedness.

If a bullet is shot as usual, but, like the poster by Shigeo Fukuda, it turns back to gun unlike what always happens, what kind of message is understood by the audience? To illustrate an incident contrary to what always happens is appealing to the audience and as a result, it captures their attention and transfers its message vigorously. This also applied to speech, if a reversal of normal word order is used, the result is more engaging and effective. An example of which is this poem by Khayam:
    Bahram who used always to take the wild ones (gur),
    See how the grave (gur) has taken Bahram.

Repetition as a visual element in the design, besides making rhythm and movement, creates an opportunity to emphasize a specific subject and concept if it stops. An example of which is the repetition of head in a poster called “Kafka’s Trial” designed by Roman Cieslewicz. In poetry too, repetition of a letter or word can create rhythm, bring attention to an idea and make the audience excited. Pay attention to the repetition of the letter “s” in this poem 
by Hafiz:
    If the cord of the rosary snapped, hold me excused
    On the arm of the Saki of silver leg, my arm was.

The use of common and varied models and structures in poetry and graphic design to achieve a harmony of beautiful form and better functionality is not limited to the above-mentioned instances. These were the most well-known, used instances of such structures and there are numerous others for designers to use if they would be aware of their values.

 1. (From Hafiz’s poems)

Alireza Mostafazadeh Ebrahimi

graphic designer, art and creative director holds a master's degree in visual communication from the University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts. He is a faculty member of Tehran University and a lecturer in Azad University and Vije Visual Communication Art School. He is also a member of Iranian Graphic Designers' Association from 1997 and is currently working as a creative director and marketing communication consultant. Have won prizes and have been published in international expert journals as well.

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