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Last Things First: A Manifesto

January 1st, 2021

We are designers, artists, and thinkers from the Arabic-speaking lands with an intertwined foundational thread that connects us.


Our supposed identity is in a dormant state. Even the pursuit of what it might be has been obscured and obfuscated. Even the scarce traces of our history have been distanced from us, fragmented, scraped, and dumped. The challenge for us is far greater than it has ever been and, thus, will be far more glorious when overcome.

Once again, we are coerced into witnessing our identities being shaped by a Western gaze upon our societies and cultures. Forces are dictating what and how we should learn, what has aesthetic value, what framework to use to extract meaning from our own experiences, what is interesting, what is accepted, what is civil, what sounds nice in our language, how to think, thus, shaping both our identities and our cultures. These forces are not currently being contested in any effective way.

“Can we intervene and affect the variables that contribute to the formation of our being?”

This manifesto is a promise that we will, at the very least, TRY. To our future selves and future generations, we will resist, counter, and subvert the current order of things which is far more ingrained and damaging than it may appear. We then hope to hand you over something a little more tolerable. We promise we will try to regain our ability to represent and define ourselves. We will be gregarious, relentless, passionate, skeptical, critical, and vigilant and invite everyone to be too.

an ink illustration of a central figure with hands grabbing his face done for the arabic design archive manifesto
Melissa Chalhoub

The reality being mass-produced daily is hideous: the language doesn’t belong to us; we don’t even like it in that it doesn’t feel like it’s ours – it’s alien and crude. It assaults us as it is imposed upon us by the current unmediated flow of visual, textual, and conceptual hyper-production.

We have become mindless consumers of our identities, a by-product of a new hybrid form of colonialism. A form; far more intrusive and pervasive that shape-shifts on the body it inhabits, infects it, and incrementally terraforms it. Think of it as The Thing of social phenomenons, an extremely hostile shape-shifting organism with the ability to exploit the specific systems of its host to survive and proliferate.

an ink illustration of shape shifting creatures done for the arabic design archive manifesto
Ya Lahwiti

Everyone is to blame, including ourselves.

Our Universities Nurture It

  1. Hiring Western talents with disproportionate salaries to their equivalent and sometimes more qualified Arabs.
  2. By relying on Western standards and education while positioning Western thinking and language as the pinnacle of progressiveness and modernity.
  3. By contributing to the inaccessibility of information: by locking away historical materials in their private, exclusive, classist, elitist archives that are only reserved for their benefits and then selling itself back to us.
  4. And by falling behind the times, becoming rusty, and conforming to how things always have been rather  than looking forwards and leading the way to change. In doing so, they have become the tool that ensures we reproduce conformity.

We Accept and Facilitate It

The definition of we in this context is used loosely

  1. By participating in the mechanisms that lead to its validation.
  2. By not opposing it.
  3. By not criticizing it at all or even worse, by criticizing whoever is criticizing it. We have created the perfect panopticon.

The Marketplace Rewards It

  1. By paying us for it.
  2. By maximizing profit at the expense of considering the wider culture.

Societies Legitimise It

  1. By not addressing the far reaching and harmful inferiority complex.
  2. By losing the ability to self-reflect and mediate challenges.
  3. By not demanding a more relevant culture.

a colored illustration of a shattered mirror done for the arabic design archive manifesto
Céline Raffy

Thus, we are detached from reality and forcefully shaped into something that we deem ugly. We have looked into the mirror and we are horrified by the spectacle of our being. Yet it’s also the reason for our awakening.

a digital illustration of an eagle holding snakes done for the arabic design archive manifesto
The Red Falcon
Muhammad Mustafa

We declare rejection of these things in their totality, and we will look for something that belongs to us. What is ours is out there; we have seen it, touched it, and heard it. It’s calling for us, when we pay enough attention, we can hear it scream. Locked from the public eye, it lies in cold, deserted rooms, mistreated and/or inaccessible. Between it and us are the WALLS of bureaucracy, discrimination, paranoia, exploitation, rigidness, classism, regressivism, suspicion, oppression, hypocrisy, commercialism, and distrust.

Our inherent right is for that material to be preserved and made accessible to all those it may concern, THE PUBLIC.

A Manifesto Within a Manifesto:

When we started, there were little to no archiving initiatives, but since we’ve progressed, we have seen a burst of similar regional approaches. This makes us thrilled and hopeful about the future. But we need more.

Methods For Others Who Are Aiming to Archive:

• Don’t archive what is already being archived. If you find someone who is archiving what you want to archive, reach out and join forces.
• Remember that archiving is not a gimmick.
• Prioritize quality, rigor, and inclusiveness.
• Remember that archives are not images and videos, they are information and context.

Start to gravitate, cluster, group, collaborate and unify.

For Practicing Designers, Artists, or Their Relatives:

If you have work that is yours or of one of your family members, get in touch with us; we can redirect you or help you preserve it.

• Please don’t discard or lock these away; get into the habit of archiving and documenting your work as you create it. Let us see it and make sure that future generations see it too.

For Private Collectors, Institutions, and Universities:

Some of you are using cultural heritage material that originally belonged to EVERYONE, and you are locking it away.

• Open up your collections and archives.
• Facilitate visits and research for EVERYONE. You have the capacity to do that, so do it.

For Designers, Researchers, Educators, Thinkers, and Artists:

We need all of you

• Reach out to younger individuals and mentor them.
• Create alternatives, counter cultures, and question everything.
• Assemble small communities, not bubbles, and open up access to other communities.

For Students:

• Be curious about your history and dust it off.
• Rethink everything.
• Seek mentorship.
• There are more ways designers can function in society – commercial work is not your only hope. If you can’t find what you like, create it.

For Cultural Institutions, Non-profits (National and International), and Philanthropists:

• Support archival projects, design research projects, and writing. Our societies truly need it.

We are finding ways to reconnect and assemble a response beyond borders and the physical. Together we will harness what is ours. We will free history from its archons, hypocrites, and dictators of documents and information.


What We Need:

We need a change in protocol. A collective mindset shift. A radical rethinking of how we look at history and the criteria we use to define historical or cultural heritage materials.

Call to Action

We are calling for a regional movement for creating both physical and digital archives and a reimagining of the existing ones. We are calling for a reconfiguration of how we define cultural heritage material; a preservation of not just archaeological finds, but language itself, books, magazines, art, and culture. We should perceive all printed matter as historical documents.

An Open Ending:

Archives are our collective memory.
Archives are not just the past; they constitute the present and help us form the future.
Archives are a way for us to gain sovereignty of and autonomy over who we are and heal.

* To sign this manifesto, write your name and location in Arabic and English in the comments below or send your information HERE

Signed This Manifesto:

Moe Elhossieny - Egypt
Sophia Alami - Morocco
Omaima Dajani - Palestine
Karim Fouad - Egypt
Yaman Tomeh - Lebanon
Muhammad Mustafa - Egypt
Sarah Al Adayleh - Jordan
Areej Atallah - Saudi Arabia
Engy Hashem - Egypt
Nourhan Elbanna - Egypt
Ganzeer - USA
Huda AbiFarès - Netherlands
Dana Al-Sheyyab - Jordan
Maria Habib - Lebanon
Ra'fat Ali - Netherlands
Haya Halaw - Syria
Fenna Zamouri - Belgium
Tewa Barnosa - Libya
Sarah Saleh - Netherlands
Kinda Ghannoum - Belgium
Ahmed Foula - Egypt
Mohamed Farahat - Germany
Magd Elsherif - Egypt
Ali Raafat - Egypt
Hessa Lootah - UAE
Nada Abdallah - UAE
Fai Ahmed - Saudi Arabia
Randa Hadi - Kuwait
Mona Bashir - Palestine
Roï Saade - Lebanon
Basma Hamdy - Egypt
Mohamed FELLAH - Morocco
Aya Tarek - Egypt
Munirah AlShami - Kuwait
Mohamed Gaber - Netherlands
Naïma Ben Ayed - England
Sulaiman Alomar - Kuwait
Moneeka Thakur - England
Nour Hamade - England
Med Be - Morocco
Dahlia Mahmoud - Sudan
Rawand Issa - Lebanon
Amira El-sheikh - Egypt
Serena Safieddine - Morocco
Batoul Bennani - Morocco
Yzza Slaoui - Morocco
Ines Tazi - Morocco
Raya Shaban - Jordan
Rosy Tahan - Syria
Haneen Nazzal - Palestine
Yazan Mohammed - Saudi Arabia
Reina Akkoush - Lebanon
Farah Al Souri - Palestine
Mariam El Ashmawy - Egypt
Noha Zayed - UK/Egypt
Razan Basim - Jordan
Thikra Ahmad - Saudi Arabia
Hadeer Omar - Egypt
Hana Shokr - Egypt
Yazan Al Ghraowi - Syria
Yasir Abdullah - Egypt
Salma Fahmy - Egypt
Habiba Fouad - Egypt
Mahmoud Marzouk - Egypt
Hana Shokr - Egypt
Dala Itani - Lebanon
Sam Abillama - Lebanon
Acil Benamara - Algérie
Muhannad Helvacı - Turkey
Joud Tanta - Turkey
Yasmine Nabli - Switzerland
Anas Alaa - Egypt
Talal Moualla - Czechia
Celine Raffy- Egypt
Rami Abu Shakra - Lebanon
Waad Ahmed Atia - Egypt
Amjad hameed - Iraq
Salma Abdelrahman - Egypt
Shaima Elbardawil - UAE
Nada Elsibaey - Egypt
Somayah Alzahrani - Saudi Arabia
Pascal Zoghbi - Spain/Lebanon
Yasmine Taan - Lebanon