PRINT is honored to announced our latest Designer of the Week, Rima Massasati. Her stirring new poster series and Indiegogo campaign is helping Syrian refugees by raising money for food, medical assistance and art supplies that’ll help create a sense of home for the refugees. In the posters, Massasati uses traditional Syrian symbols and imagery to raise awareness of the plight of refugee children—particularly in the camps in Greece, where she volunteered as an art teacher for several weeks last year. Read on to learn more about both Massasati and the campaign.
Name: Rima Massasati
Organization: 4 Corners
Location: New York City
Design school attended: Louisiana State University
How would you describe your work?
I believe my work mirrors the places I’ve been. Like a Seurat painting, each place and experience is a dot that forms a whole picture.
Most of my design aesthetic is geometric, layered and playful. I find joy in designing patterns, creating collages, branding projects and editorial layouts.
My work process is usually a client [coming] to me with a challenge, and I try to find a solution. But I don’t want it to be the prettiest solution, I am a strong believer of “form follows function.” I’m also a firm believer that you should have fun with your designs and inject character, personality and quirks whenever appropriate. Even if it’s not trendy.
Where do you find inspiration?
I grew up in New Orleans and then moved to Abu Dhabi, UAE where I lived for 10 years. From New Orleans, my greatest influence has come from the French Quarter with its many vintage hand-painted signage, lush greenery and vibrant culture. The Middle East was such a different beauty. I attended an international school where I loved becoming familiar with the different cultures. I was always inspired by the old Syrian souqs/shops; Al-Hamidiyah Souq in Damascus, to be particular. The detailed mosaics, rich embroidered dresses, graphic rugs and grand geometric domes continue to inspire me.
More recently, I’ve found inspiration during late night showers, conversations with friends and current events. I enjoy researching upcoming projects and really getting into the history and aesthetics of the material. Walking through New York City always helps too. I [will] just be walking and something [will] catch my eye. Maybe it’s a book or some bizarre print that someone is wearing. Maybe I overhear a conversation on the subway. Museums. Of course! The most obvious! Surreal dreams are sometimes the best inspiration. It is your subconscious mind throwing you a bone.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
I really appreciate the work of Lotta Nieminen, Merjin Hos and Louise Fili. These graphic designers use composition and pair colors and geometric shapes beautifully.
From the fine artists, what El Lissitzky does that’s amazing is tell political propaganda posters through basic shapes. Hannah Höch takes the everyday newspaper clipping and transforms them into art that challenges the status quo and political stereotype. She uses these everyday materials to create something powerful. Last but not least, my father was the one who opened my eyes to graphic design; he digitizes old Arabic calligraphy and creates mind-boggling mathematical prints. He makes it seem so easy and simple.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
One of my most enjoyable projects was Subway Asylum, a collage series [shown above]. I designed a spread for La Petite Mort, a biannual print publication from Sub Rosa, a design and strategy studio of which I am a proud alum. My piece was about how riding the New York City Subway offers me daily Dada-like experiences that illuminate the rejected reason and logic of my fellow travelers. The portrayal of the nonsensical, the irrational and the intuitive can be accosting.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
It wasn’t a creative project that was a challenge. It was what was happening with the Syrian refugee crisis that was a challenge. As a Syrian-American far from Syria, seeing the destruction behind a TV screen is depressing. You feel helpless and you want to do something. I constantly asked myself, what can I do? I wanted to use my skills. Even if it was to create a simple poster.
The whole reason 4 Corners came about is that my sister came back from a refugee camp and told me there was a shortage in blankets and basic supplies once refugees landed in Lesvos, Greece. The four corners of a warm blanket made me think of the corners of my computer screen and then the corners of a poster. I realized that I needed to stop complaining and start doing. I wanted to help raise funds to give refugees in these camps some hope in the way of medical assistance, food and art supplies. I also wanted to use my own creativity to thank those who donated to the Indiegogo campaign I had intended to set up.
At the same time, Sub Rosa had a call for entries for a karma-themed issue of La Petite Mort, and the pieces all came together. I created a poster series to give back to the donors. The series made its debut in La Petite Mort in December (issues are available for free by contacting LPM@wearesubrosa.com), and I officially launched the Indiegogo campaign in early January. It’s all given me hope and something to look forward to.
When I myself was volunteering at two refugee camps in Greece last year, it was really nice to experience a sense of community with the refugees. That sense of community is continuing through this project, even though I can’t be with them in person right now. Design has historically had the ability to push ideas and form mindsets to do good. Pushing ideas and forming ideas is what makes the poster series worth it and fulfilling.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Oh man, sometimes I wish I had a DeLorean! I really would like to continue to find projects that make me see things differently. I would like to create or join a community that works on such projects. Branding and editorial design [are] always on my mind, [and] teaching is one of the things I’ve been entertaining lately.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
Embrace your past your heritage and even your quirks. Enjoy what you do, similar to what Paul Rand said: “Without play, there would be no Picasso. Without play, there is no experimentation. Experimentation is the quest for answers.” If you are anxious or stuck, begin to manifest your ideas through any medium. Think, but don’t over analyze, don’t be intimidated, and just do it.
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