Lebanese design magazine defies the odds with its production

Now scattered across the world, and with their old Beirut offices still in tatters, the creatives behind the design magazine Safar came together to launch their sixth issue – their first since the port explosion – in Lebanon last month.

The magazine’s offices were destroyed in the August 2020 explosion and the ensuing economic crisis forced most of its small team to disperse across the world. Nonetheless, they continued to work together to release their product. “Working on the magazine gave us hope,” says Maya Moumne, co-founder of the magazine.

Safar staff began planning for the problem shortly after the explosion. Yet they released it in Beirut at the Souk Al Tayeb book fair in October this year, months after its official global launch in May.

Unsurprisingly, its theme is all about power. “After the port explosion, electricity was an essential theme. We wanted to highlight power where, for many, it remains unnoticed or, at least, unnamed, ”Moumne said. “Like the constant surveillance by technology that we hold in our own hands, the statues and posters of politicians watching from our streets, or the design and creation of money until it collapses.”

The magazine, which features Turkish bodybuilder Oyku Basar on its cover, includes a briefing on Hezbollah’s communications strategy and a visual essay on the power of print, which includes posters from the civil rights movement and the border war. Namibian.

In October, Studio Safar, the graphic design agency that publishes the magazine, won the Tom Geismar Award 2021 from the Musée de l’Avant-garde in Switzerland. The museum highlighted projects including their branding campaign for Mauj, a Lebanese NGO dedicated to sexual health, and a fundraising poster for Lebanon that compared the country to an exploding pressure cooker.

Founded in 2014, Safar has become known for its unique blend of graphic design, culture and politics. The team’s innovative use of Arabic letters and Middle Eastern visual references helped solidify Beirut’s reputation as a destination for graphic design.

In May 2020, they published timely interviews with Lebanese organizations attacking the kafala system for migrant workers. These featured portraits of Mekdes Yilma and Tsigereda Brihanu, two Ethiopian activists living in Lebanon, by photographer Myriam Boulos in Beirut.

But picking up the pieces and starting over after the explosion wasn’t easy. “As soon as we cleared the rubble and collected what was left, we had a short hunt for a new office,” recalls co-founder Hatem Imam. “But Maya and I luckily came to our senses soon after and decided to work from home, in order to save our resources and weather the storm.”

Then, in the year that followed, Lebanon was hit with a free fall in its currency, assassinations and severe shortages of food, fuel and electricity, causing most of the team to disperse. . “We have managed to keep the team and stay on our feet despite the many calamities that continue to befall the city,” he said. “But at one point, we are operating from Montreal, Cairo, Boston, Istanbul, Dubai, Berlin and Paris.”

Beirut was once known as the editorial center of the Arab world, contributing to the adage “Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Baghdad reads”. But today, small Arabic-speaking publishers tend to carry books in their own suitcases from country to country due to the costs associated with distribution, tariffs and growing censorship.

Also, Safar was forced to adapt its operations to the crisis. “I moved to Montreal [after the port explosion]”, says Moumne.” As soon as I arrived, I registered Safar and opened a bank account so that we can continue to move our money and work regardless of the power of the Lebanese authorities. Whether they like it or not, we’ll continue to work on a post that addresses what they don’t want from us.

In addition, the magazine is printed and distributed from London, allowing them to circumvent material shortages and rising distribution costs affecting Lebanon.

They still faced challenges in bringing the physical copies into the country. “We had to pay an exorbitant ‘customs clearance’ at the port of Beirut, and the copies were held hostage there for more than two months,” explains the imam.

The magazine and the studio are our policy. It is one of the tools that we can use to be political agents in these unfair and extremely violent conditions, to say something and change something.

Maya Moumne, co-founder of Safar magazine

Long-term, SafarThe new configuration could allow the magazine to expand its international reach. Today, the magazine is distributed by newsagents and cultural institutions in London, Manchester, Milan, Rome, Bucharest and Seattle, among others. Their previous issue featured three short stories from acclaimed contemporary American filmmaker and author Miranda July.

It can also continue to serve a growing diaspora of Lebanese readers, as thousands leave the country every month. “Beirut had one of the first graphic design programs in the region,” says Imam. “But today a lot of people are leaving and the industry is in danger.”

Yet for Safarfounders of, publishing the magazine is a direct and necessary response to the crisis in Lebanon. “The magazine and the studio are our policy,” says Moumne. “It is one of the tools that we can use to be political agents in these unfair and extremely violent conditions, to say something and to change something.”

Imam says: “Producing a magazine printed anywhere in the world is a tough task; to do it from Beirut and in a bilingual way without funding is bordering on stupidity, but our unwavering insistence on making things happen is our only strategy. “

Considering the challenges and the shrinking audience in the country, is it really useful to bring the hard copies to Lebanon? Moumne insists he is there. “To keep publishing these issues, you literally have to take up physical space,” she says. “The explosion looked like a tipping point – in Arabic we say ‘the hair that breaks the back of the mule’. We need to talk some more. “

Update: December 21, 2021, 3:56 a.m.

About Raymond A. Bentley

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