Monday March 4th, 2019 By: Alexandra Kinias
Since Queen Victoria appeared on the first adhesive postage stamp in 1840, portrait busts of rulers became standard of the early stamps. In contemporary times, countries continue to honor the distinguished members in their societies by featuring them on commemorative stamps, which are printed in limited quantities, and often sought after as collective items.
The first Egyptian stamps were issued on January 1, 1866. King Fouad of Egypt was the first ruler to appear on them in 1920, and was followed by his successor King Farouk, whose first photo appeared on the Egyptian stamps when he was at the age of nine. It wasn’t until after King Farouk’s abdication in 1952 that other public figures were featured on them.
In January 2019, Maha Hesham received her bachelor’s in Graphic Design from the American University in Cairo. While researching for her graduation project, Hesham noticed that male representation on Egyptian stamps outnumbered women’s. That raised her curiosity to investigate the reasons behind that, which ultimately led her to the realization that it was just a matter of inequality.
Hashem’s discovery motivated her to use her graduation project to highlight nine Egyptian pioneer women who made history. To pay tribute to them and commemorate their achievements, she created a series of nine postage stamps, one for each. She also developed bilingual booklets for each woman – in Arabic and English – which included a set of her own stamps, along with her short biography.
In this interview, Hesham explains to us more about her project.
WoE: What motivated you to choose this project?
MH: Our graduation project was divided into two parts; the theoretical part and the practical part. I first started this project simply aiming to investigate Egyptian postage stamps, which I had chosen based on the fact that postage stamp design is a very illustrative medium. Since I wanted to incorporate my illustrative skills into my graduation project, it felt like the right topic for me to choose – other than the fact that it is rich with history and seemed very interesting.
WoE: Why did you choose the pioneer Egyptian women as subject for your project?
MH: My investigation concluded that the most popular function for stamps, nowadays, is that it is becoming more of a collectable. Hence, I decided to create stamps that would be aesthetically pleasing, rather than more functional in this digital age. Upon looking back at archives in order to be inspired, I realized that stamps were often used to pay tribute to people, which were usually pioneers or leaders. And as women representation on stamps was outnumbered by men’s. I decided to use stamps as a medium to highlight and educate people about these women, whom some have never received such a tribute.
WoE: Tell us more about the stamps and the women you chose to feature.
MH: So far, I have developed nine stamps. Each has a width of 3.5 cm and a height of 4.2 cm (as of the perforated edges). Nine stamps felt like a fit number, in terms of display (as it is a square number), and also just enough to be able to diversify between the different women, in terms of accomplishments, status and struggles. The nine women I featured are, Moufida AbdelRahman; Amina AlSaid; Sameera Moussa; Suhayr AlQalamawi; Umm Kulthum; Lutfia AlNadi; Safeyya Zaghluul; Doria Shafik and Hoda Shaarawi.
WoE: What are the techniques you are using?
MH: To illustrate the stamps, I started off traditionally, using pen and paper; eventually, when I reached a style that I felt comfortable adopting for the rest of the project, I began to digitalise the stamps by drawing on Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, while using my Wacom graphic tablet. Once the designs were complete, I would print the stamps on specific paper (with a yellowish tint and of certain weight) and ultimately laser-cutting the perforations, so that the stamps are removable.
WoE: Is this project something you want to pursue after your graduation?
MH: Seeing the amount of positive feedback that the project has received, I believe that it is definitely worth considering when it comes to continuing – whether it’s to make it available to purchase or to continue creating more series, highlighting more women.
WoE: What do you want to accomplish with this project? What is the message you are sending and to whom?
MH: Graphic Design is about sending a message through visuals, and it is up to the designer to choose the right elements to successfully deliver that message. Personally, I appreciate projects that spark debates or enlighten viewers once they realize the meaning behind them, especially if they also raise awareness. I believe this is what the project accomplished.
Initially, I wanted to create aesthetically pleasing stamps that would encourage the younger generations to start collecting stamps. My second aim was to prove that we have many women in our country’s history that we should be proud of, mainly to people such as myself, who went to international schools locally and abroad and barely have any insights about the pioneers who have shaped their country. I also wanted to highlight the ongoing inequality that women have faced then, and are still facing now, simply because of their gender – but nonetheless, these women dodged many obstacles in order to reach for their aspirations, breaking society’s norms and ultimately, having their names recorded in history.
But only having their portraits featured wasn’t enough, because that alone did not communicate the struggles that they faced. I wanted to be able to tell their stories – hence came the booklets which included their short biographies, so that viewers can really sympathize with them, appreciate them and remember them.
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