The Middle East has a rich history of illustration. Yet within advertising illustrators are perceived simply as service providers rather than artists, believes Lama Khatib Daniel
“The attempt to define illustration is intimidating, since it encompasses several types of arts and methodologies. For me it is easier to say that illustration is the foundation for all visual arts.
The origin of illustration can be traced back to cave painting, which is believed to be the first form of illustration ever known to mankind. Stories and events were described by engraving pictures and symbols on stones. This method developed over time to include colours and then found its way to jewellery, pots and even wooden manuscripts.
The Middle East is rich with ancient civilisations that mastered the art of illustration; old Egypt, Babylon, and Persian civilisations have created symbols to illustrate actions and events. These unique visual languages have helped us in understanding our roots better than what words alone could have described. Through civilisations illustration has always had one main objective, which is communication – delivering specific messages. Even after the invention of languages and letters, and even in current times, illustration has always been a means of communication; a true art of visual language.
The human brain is better triggered by visuals and that’s why illustration has been a big part of our upbringing; who can forget the illustrated books we grew up reading as kids, or the newspaper caricatures and cartoons that our parents followed.
This visual language art or illustration plays a big role in modern communication, regardless of the channel. Illustration is found in logos, books, packaging, labels, fashion, TV commercials, print ads, and many other means and even found its way into typography and fine art.
Illustration globally has taken two routes; the business aspect of commissioned work for specific communication tools and the purely art aspect, where illustrators express their artistic aspirations in several forms freely and outside the boundaries of design briefs. Illustration art has a huge fan base globally, with an extensive agenda of exhibitions, events and workshops with celebrity illustrators.
In the region as a whole, the demand for illustration is increasing year on year. However, it is still limited to commissioned work within the marketing communication arena. Illustrators are perceived as service providers rather than artists.
The overall environment in the region might not be ready yet for illustration to be perceived as a standalone art, although there are many capable illustrators (or I prefer to call them visual artists) that create illustrations, art pieces, that are on par with the international art scene.
The progress is slow but the confidence in Arab illustrators is solid and this is evident when we see lots of new talent emerging every year. And they are willing and eager to think out of the box and have the courage to tap into the unusual. Although respect to culture and religious sensitivities might limit the process, it is only a matter of time until the energy of the creative youth will prove itself.
Lama Khatib Daniel is a self-taught artist. She has created numerous visual art/ illustration commissions for ad agencies