The Daily Heller: Paul Rand Exhibits in Egypt

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Paul Rand was a world-class designer, but I’m not sure whether or not he ever held a class in Cairo.

Earlier this fall, the exhibit and catalog Paul Rand: The Idealist/Realist brought Rand to Egypt. Nagla Samir, Professor of Practice for the graphic design program at The American University in Cairo, and Daniel Leondowski, founder of the website Paul Rand Modernist Master: 1914–1996, organized the exhibition held at the The Sharjah Art Gallery. The title derives from Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s quote about Rand from a 1941 essay in A-D Magazine: “He is a painter, lecturer, industrial designer, advertising artist who draws his knowledge and creativeness from the resources of this country. He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and the businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless.”

The exhibit, an excellent research job featuring rarely seen Rand pieces, highlights his “idealist” phase of advertising and editorial work where he used play, vibrant colors, progressive compositions, and challenged the norms of design. The “realist” phase showcases his identity design work and solutions to clients’ visual problems and the presentation booklets of his process.

The companion dual-language book is over 400 pages, and catalogs many pieces that, frankly, I had not even known about. It also features a section about the related design symposium/workshop where selected participants formulated new ideas and directions for their own businesses.

Lewandowski, who has been an avid Rand collector for years and whose personal collection filled a Museum of Design Atlanta exhibit in 2013–2014, provided the lion’s share of the artifacts by this lion of design, and supplied The Daily Heller with photographs of the catalog and the displays.

Below, I ask Prof. Samir for more about the show.

How was Rand’s work greeted in Egypt? How long has his work been known there?
The majority of the design students at the American University in Cairo are familiar with Rand’s most iconic logo and visual identity designs, such as IBM, ABC, Westinghouse and UPS. They were not familiar with his editorial and advertising designs, especially those from the 1930s and 1940s.

Comments on our social media outreach reflected that a large audience was familiar with Rand’s work—they just did not know of the visionary behind it. As the exhibition is being relocated to AUC Tahrir Cultural Center for a broader public exposure, we are aiming at confirming this connection and introducing more of his work beyond the iconic staples.

What were some of the issues related to curation and getting funding?
The project started by Hania Hindy (my former AUC student) approaching Tom Hardy (her professor at SCAD at the time) with the idea of exhibiting Rand’s work in Cairo. The team grew to include Danny Leondowski for his vast research and previously curated Rand retrospective at the MODA. When we started the discussions, I saw the opportunity to expand beyond the exhibition to publishing a book (bilingual for a broad outreach to community design schools in Egypt), a conference and a “design sprint” that builds on Rand’s progressive ideas, namely Versatility of the Symbol by Steff Geissbuhler, The Designer’s Dilemma by Oen Hammonds, Ideas on Ideas by Mahamad Khalil, and The Visual Cultural Identity by Jr Neville Songwe.

We managed to get two major grants to cover the project: The Special Grant in the Arts from the Office of the Associate Provost for Research and Creativity at the American University in Cairo, and the Small Grant for Cultural Diplomacy from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo (in addition to partnership and sponsorship of Art in Reverb Creative Collaborative, and the Department of the Arts at AUC, Egypt). As a team, we worked around the different time zones, different weekends and work days, requesting publishing licenses from copyright owners, paperwork, COVID-19 travel stipulations [and so forth]. But we finally managed to pull the project together and physically meet in Cairo for installing the exhibition, the experts’ talks at the conference, and the design sprint working with Fair Trade Egypt. Tom Hardy could not join us, but we are grateful for all his efforts in introducing the team members, and his constant insightful support to the project.