V&A Museum Exhibition Graphics

By Tarek Atrissi

Light From the Middle East: Contemporary photography. Exhibition at the V&A museum in london. 2D graphics designed by Tarek Atrissi Design. Entrance mural to the typographic space shown in this photo.

Over a period of 10 month, I was involved in one of the most exciting design projects I have worked on to date. The Victoria & Albert museum commissioned us at Tarek Atrissi Design to produce the graphics for their first major contemporary photography exhibition about the Middle East. “Light from the Middle East: New Photography” (November 2012- April 2013) featured over 90 works by some of the most exciting artists across the region. This was an exciting projects for several reasons: On one hand, museums have been one of my favorite clients because they bring a strong cultural flavor to each project they need. On the other hand, working on exhibition design became in the last few years a key focus in my studio, particularly for exhibitions related to the Arab culture. Exhibition design involves a challenging combination of 2D graphics and a three-dimensional space understanding; A couple of large museum projects we are currently involved in have given us a valuable experience in this sector.

Concept for the V&A Museum exhibition design. Urban typography concept where street sign lettering were the main elements. Recording, Reframing, Resisting the typographic elements.

The V&A was keen on bringing through the exhibition and space design an authentic flavor of the Middle East to the exhibition space that reflects the theme of the artwork on display. As a designer, I am strongly against the typical clichés often wrongly associated with the Middle East in a design context, and that is why I wanted to create a design language that truly reflects the reality of the region today (read my article on Arabic design clichés). That is why I turned to the “street” as a main source of inspiration. By applying the concept of “Recording, Reframing, Resisting” in a typographic context, I used a documented hand-lettered street sign in Beirut to deconstruct its visual typographic elements and use these as a main ingredient for the design. The calligraphic / lettering style on that sign was recreated with the exhibition title in Arabic, and by cropping and reframing it, the large murals of the exhibition space were designed and produced.

the calligraphic style of Hamra street sign was recreated with the arabic title of the exhibition and treated it further according to the concept to transform from 2D to the space design

Once defined, the concept was carried to the detailed design stage where the typographic abstract elements were integrated in the space as part of the huge murals within the exhibition. The negative and positive space of the Arabic letters created the opportunity to play further with the concept of light and in providing different perspectives in looking at different areas within the exhibition space. The material was carefully selected to work with the construction foundations of the exhibition design and the final 2D graphics integrated within the 3D design and was detailed and finalized for production in the tender document provided to the fabricator.

design detail of the murals / walls for the exhibition design 2D graphics. Large typographic arabic letters on wall.

The final exhibition space was very typographic, using arabic letters as forms in very large scale while remaining subtle and not overshadowing the art on display. The main entrance of the exhibition consisted of multiple layers of Latin and Arabic typography that combined to give the exhibition its own recognizable style. Urban typography was brought from the street to the museum. Most important, it helped reflecting an accurate visualizing of the real landscape of the Middle East today.

Arabic Typographic Mural from street calligraphy by Tarek Atrissi forms the main elements for the exhibition design concept of the space

Previews from the exhibition space and the design process and production are shown in the photo gallery below.