Kuwaiti graphic designer Mohammad Sharaf serves up powerful pictures based on current events, salted with modern Middle Eastern humor and instantly provocative. Take a look at his image of a veiled woman on a bike with a man riding behind her, a reference to the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Vice’s recent decision to allow women to drive motorcycles as long as they were accompanied by a male guardian.
“I read about the announcement in a newspaper and couldn’t believe it. I thought it was really funny and far-fetched so I decided to create this artwork,” he told the Saudi Gazette. Titled “Allowed”, the artwork created a buzz on social media sites and attracted international press attention.
His stark image of a pair of covered women, designed to commemorate International Women’s Day (a global event to incite gender equality) invites wide interpretation.
Anais Nin nailed it when she quipped, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
Sharaf’s father was an avid artist, their home filled with paintings and the tools of the trade. With his dad as teacher, he started painting at an early stage.
When Sharaf was seven years old, his father was banned from exhibiting his political paintings at local art shows. Disillusioned, the elder Sharaf stopped all artistic activities, including lessons to his son. The theme of censorship arises in another of the artist’s posters, see below.
“I always make sure that my artwork touches very basic audience members, in addition to the sophisticated ones,” he said.
Sharaf’s political and social artwork relies on simple backgrounds and uses of a limited color range, most commonly black, white, and red.
“I developed my style from different artists such as Emil Ruder and Reza Abedini,” he writes. “As for colors, I try to link to the Russian propaganda and Constructivism art movement. Their posters were critical of the system and politics in a unique way. They were bold, funny and social. They were direct and indirect. They used very limited number of colors and cheap materials because of their poor economic status. I mix all.”
He’s passionate for Arabic calligraphy, and it’s a recurring feature of his work.
An art school teacher inspired him to create political and social artwork. Urging that an artist should be an active member of society, she kickstarted his creation of posters highlighting local and regional issues.
Over the years, Sharaf has witnessed radical change in the Gulf art scene. Young people are more enthused and interested in art and design, and dozens of galleries have opened. Artists are taking risks, and making bolder statements against the status quo.
After “Allowed,” Sharaf was contacted by organizations wanting to republish his artwork. His work appeared in German news magazine, Der Spiegel. “I was contacted by a German bicycle museum to have it showcased there and also an NGO from Finland to have the illustration on a book they will be publishing soon.
Word of mouth is helping him gain an audience, He established Sharaf Inc., his own art studio, and is currently selling his images on t-shirts, with future plans to sell prints and paintings.
He says, “For me, I think that the best reward ever is to see my work published and being distributed all over the world.”
Images via Mohammad Sharaf’s website