Bahia Shehab

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bahia Shehab
Born1977 Edit this on Wikidata
OccupationArtist, art historian, designer and scholar
Stylecalligraffiti Edit this on Wikidata
Website Edit this on Wikidata

Bahia Shehab (Arabic: بهية شهاب‎; born 1977)[1] is a multidisciplinary artist, designer, historian, creative director, educator and activist based in Cairo, Egypt. Her work is concerned with identity and preserving cultural heritage. Through investigating Islamic art history she reinterprets contemporary Arab politics, feminist discourse and social issues. Through her culturally oriented work, she is concerned with using history as a means to better understand the present and find solutions for the future. Bahia is interested in the ways in which art may be employed for the purposes of social change and has explored this phenomenon through her artwork, which draws upon such socially charged themes as Arab identity and women's rights. Her research is largely concerned with understanding the Arabic letter and has been preoccupied with Arabic calligraphy in much of her work. By imbuing traditional Arabic and Islamic scripts with political messages in her artwork, she has managed to portray how art can be used to understand societal situations and convey them to a larger audience. Bahia claimed an active role in the Egyptian revolution that swept across Egypt in 2011 by spraying her artwork upon the walls in Cairo. Her work has been displayed in exhibitions around the world and she has received several awards for her achievements.[2] In 2019, Shehab was a main feature in the Polaris catalogue produced by Visual Collaborative, she was interviewed alongside other practitioners from around the world.[3]

Earl life and education[edit]

Shehab was born in 1977 in Lebanon,[4] and grew up there. She studied graphic design in Beirut, and studied for a master's degree in Cairo.[5]

Educational Work and Research[edit]

Academia: The Graphic Design Program at the AUC

In 2011, Bahia established the Graphic Design program at the Department of the Arts in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the AUC.[6] The major's design curriculum revolves around the visual culture of the Arab world and students are encouraged to present a keen awareness of Arab visual culture as they work on various design projects. Bahia encourages her students to make use of their interests while developing their work and emphasizes the need to use design to solve problems.[7]

In 2015, the first graduating graphic design class presented their graduation projects in the Sharjah Art Gallery at the AUC. Their projects were concerned with rebranding public institutions, human rights, social issues, cultural heritage, political reflections and personal expression.[7] Students employed all forms of design in their projects to communicate their messages in their relevant medium. Since then, the number of students studying in the Graphic Design program has dramatically increased.

AUC Graduating Graphic Design Students displaying their work in the exhibition “Zoom in Keda!", Sharjah Art Gallery, AUC, 2018, photo by Mostafa Abdel-Aty

Bahia has taught over fifteen courses on graphic design, including theoretical courses on the history of Arab graphic design, history of Arabic calligraphy and history of advertising in the Arab world. Her courses also include practical ones on Arabic typography, introduction to design, logo and corporate identity, packaging, retail design, illustration and advertising and branding. She has also served as senior thesis advisor for graduating classes. She has been teaching at AUC since Fall of 2010.[6]

Edraak Courses

Bahia's educational achievements have not only been limited to university coursework. She has also participated in developing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for Queen Rania Foundations’ educational platform Edraak where over 50,000 students have registered todate. In Fall 2015 and Spring 2017, the course “Introduction to Graphic Design,” was offered to Edraak students. Another one of her courses, “Introduction to Arabic Type Design,” is yet to be offered in 2019. [8]

Conferences and Symposiums

Bahia has given many public lectures in over 26 cities, on her art practice at different conferences, symposiums universities, institutions and museums around the world. She has widely spoken about her “A Thousand Times No” project and about her contributions to the art scene in the context of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, including spray painting political messages on the walls of the streets of Cairo. She frequently lectures internationally on Arab visual culture and design, design education and curriculum development, women's’ rights, social issues, Islamic cultural heritage and her art practice.[2]

Jury and Board Work

Bahia served as a jury member for a number of competitions. In September 2014, she was a jury member of the Poster for Tomorrow competition where she was responsible for choosing the winners of a poster competition whose theme revolved around the rights to fair and equal employment along with other jury members from around the world. The title of the competition was “Work Right!”.[9] She became a jury member again for the same competition in September 2016, when the competition was titled “Make Extremism History” and the theme was concerned with addressing extremism.[10] In October 2017, she judged the competition again when the theme was “Freedom of Movement.[11]

In March 2016, the 100 Best Arabic Posters initiative, which was launched from the German University in Cairo in Egypt, gave designers in the Arab world the chance to submit their posters for judging and inclusion in a publication by a jury of which Bahia was a member.[12]

In November 2016, Bahia was selected to be a member of the jury of the Mahmoud Kahil Award program, which is based in Beirut, Lebanon and is dedicated to promoting comics, editorial cartoons and illustrations in the Arab world by recognizing and rewarding the work of illustrators in this part of the world.[13]

In honour of her achievement as a laureate of the Prince Claus Award, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Egypt announced a Wasla competition in September 2017 in collaboration with the Prince Claus Fund where the theme was concerned with making connections and building bridges. Egyptian designers were given the chance to submit poster designs in light of this theme and Bahia participated in choosing and announcing the winners.[14] While this project was a form of historical visual research, during the January 25 Revolution in 2011 in Egypt, Bahia somehow “freed” these one thousand no's from their historical associations and gave them new meanings through the political events of the revolution. She used the different styles of the “no” to protest against current events that she found unfavourable. Some examples include, “no to burning books”, “no to a new pharaoh”, “no to stripping the people” and “no to killing men of religion”.[15][16]


A Thousand Times NO” and Political Graffiti[edit]

In 2010, the Khatt Foundation in Amsterdam invited Bahia to produce an artwork for the exhibition “The Future of Tradition”, whose purpose it was to commemorate 100 years of Islamic Art in Europe after the exhibition “Masterpieces of Muhammadan Art” at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany. Her project “A Thousand Times NO” was an art installation and research project that went on display in a room curated by Huda Smitshuijzen Abifares, the founder of Khatt Foundation, with other female artists from the Arab world celebrating the Arabic script. The main message that Bahia sought to convey through her artwork was the simple “NO”. In accordance with the Arabic saying, “No and a thousand times no,” Bahia sought out one thousand different Arabic no's. She found them on buildings, mosques, plates, textiles, pottery and books from countries, such as Spain, China, Afghanistan and Iran, where Islam had thrived at one point in history or another. These one thousand no's were displayed altogether in the form of a plexiglass curtain at the Haus Der Kunst exhibition. Next to this installation was a book, which was published by the Khatt Foundation, where Bahia gathered all one thousand no's in chronological order together with the names of the places where she came by them, the media that were used to write the no's and the patrons who were responsible for commissioning the works upon which the no's were found.[17]

Landscape/Soundscape: 20 Minarets from the Arab World[edit]

Another project that Bahia created, “20 Minarets from the Arab World,” is a significant cultural project that was displayed at the Arab Contemporary Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. In this project, Bahia takes the minaret, an important element of the architectural landscape in the Arab world, as the starting point. Here, she displays 20 minarets from the Arab world while taking into consideration their proportions and begins with the smallest minaret from Mogadishu and ends with the tallest one from Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. She also includes the minaret of the Great Mosque of Aleppo in Syria but it appears to be in ruins to represent the cultural disaster that struck in 2013 when the minaret was bombed. In this project, Bahia was concerned with how the Arab cultural heritage was being physically destroyed on one hand and, on the other hand, she how it was being intellectually attacked by Western nations and labelled as backwards and terroristic. As part of the installation, Bahia also included the adhan (call to prayer) in the voice of a woman. Her choice was inspired by the idea that women should raise their voices and God.[18]

Global Street Interventions Campaign[edit]

Since 2016, Bahia has been working on a global street interventions campaign that involves spray painting quotes from the Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish on the walls of streets around the world. She believes that Darwish's words are relevant given the political situation in which we find ourselves today. The quotes include, “Stand at the corner of a dream and fight” and “I had a dream that will be and a butterfly cocooned in prisons,” in honour of Mahinoor Elmasry who was arrested along with countless others for standing against injustice in Egypt.[19] Other quotes include, “No to the impossible,” “We love life if we had access to it,” “I will dream,” “How big is the idea, how small is the state,” “Those who have no land have no sea,” “On this earth there are things worth living for,” “One day we will be who we want to be, the journey has not started and the road has not ended,” and “My people will return as air and light and water.”[20][21][22] The style with which these quotes are painted is largely abstract and geometric and such simple shapes as circles, rectangles and triangles are employed in the artworks. Her street art has also been inspired by older Arabic scripts. Thus far, she has painted walls in Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Lebanon, the United States of America, Morocco and Norway.[23][24]

The Chronicles of Flowers[edit]

In 2017, Bahia opened an exhibition in Istanbul, Turkey called “The Chronicles of Flowers” which revolves around a personal documentation of Bahia's significant relationship with flowers. When Bahia broke her left knee in 2011, her mother came to Cairo from Beirut to look after her and she would create a flower arrangement from the garden and place it next to Bahia's bed. This led to Bahia's interest in documenting flowers for years to come. More than that, for Bahia, these flowers have significant likenesses to the women in her life as they have given her the chance to better understand herself and her society. The exhibition involved plexiglass screens, video and audio projections and flower scents allowing the audience to enjoy a multi-sensory experience. A book, whose narrative begins from Lebanon's Civil War in the 1980s and ends in 2017 after the revolution in Egypt, also contains a documentation of 77 flowers along with their significance to Bahia.The exhibition ran from May 9 to June 17 in 2017.[25][18]

The Chronicles of Flowers

Project Light[edit]

Project Light is a global art campaign that was launched by Peek Vision and Fine Acts. The aim of the project is to raise awareness and increase public engagement for everyone's right to see and have good vision.[26] In Phase 1 of the project, the goal is to allow a number of artists, of which Bahia is one, to create contemporary art pieces based on the concept of the right to sight. The campaign seeks to encourage policymakers to make decisions that will allow people better access to eye care.[27]

The Reflections of Shangri La[edit]

Between August 9 and August 22 of 2018, Bahia completed an artist residency at the Shangri La Museum for Islamic Art, Design & Culture in Honolulu, Hawaii. During this period, she studied Doris Duke's collection of Islamic art and used her findings as part of an exhibition, “Reflections on Shangri La,” that opened on September 27 in the Arts of Islam Gallery at the Honolulu Museum of Art.[28] While studying the artwork in Shangri La's collection, she noticed that many women had been depicted as illustrations however, the illustrations were miniature. As such, for the exhibition, she decided to make these women the center of the works by increasing the sizes of the illustrations drastically. Her aim is to give visitors the chance to better see how these women from different dynasties lived and looked.[29] A second part of her residency involved the creation of a two-part mural onsite at the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design. Based on a poem from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, the stanza - depicted in an artists-created font of foliated and pixellated Kufic, with roots instead of vegetation - is a site-specific commentary on colonized land.[30]

Recognition and Awards[edit]

  • 2012, she became a TED fellow and gave a TED talk about her project “A Thousand Times No” [31]
  • 2016, she became a senior TED fellow. She also made the BBC's 100 Women list [31]
  • 2013, and was given the chance to meet and discuss important issues with BBC's other 99 women.[32]
  • 2015, Bahia was featured in the documentary film “Nefertiti’s Daughters,” which recounts the important role that street artists played during the Egyptian revolution with a special focus on what women did during that period and how they participated in the struggle to attain women's rights. The film's director was concerned with particular women artist's perspectives on the events that were taking place in Egypt.[33]
  • 2016, Bahia's work on the development of the Arabic script has culminated in her becoming a laureate of the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands. Her successful integration of the historical Arabic script with current political events and bringing this historical research out into the streets in the form of street art using her “A Thousand Times No” project has allowed for a breakthrough in the knowledge of the uses of the Arabic script.[34]
  • 2016, Bahia was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 4 award from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London for her work on the “A Thousand Times No” project.[35]
  • 2017, she became the first Arab woman to receive the UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture for her use of historical Arabic calligraphic scripts in the streets in a modern political context. She received this prize alongside another Arab calligraffiti artist, eL Seed.[36]
  • 2017, in October Bahia was invited to speak at the Obama Foundation Summit where she was given the chance to meet with other leaders and share her experiences as an artist working and achieving in the Arab world.[37]


In her artwork, Bahia has always incorporated politically charged themes. Her work is concerned with issues of current political interest, such as the civil war in Lebanon from the 1980s, the revolution that swept through Egypt in 2011 and political prisoners. An important element of her artwork is her concern for women and while this takes on a largely political scope in the sense that the concern is often with women's rights, as a woman, Bahia also finds herself concerned with the humanity of women and, through her artwork, she encourages other people to relate to these women's lives however ordinary they may seem in some cases. Her concern for the Arab heritage has led her to pay attention to the Arab woman and the current issues that allow the attainment of women's rights a significant issue. Although led by significant research efforts, many of which are academic, Bahia is able to employ much of her artwork in such a way as to be able to relate to a contemporary audience that is composed of the ordinary.


  • Shehab, Bahia and Nawar, Haytham, “A History of Arab Graphic Design”, The American University in Cairo Press, 2019.[38]
  • Shehab, Bahia, “A Thousand Times No!: Spray Painting as Resistance and the Visual History of the Lam-Alif,” in Contemporary Revolutions :Turning Back to the Future in 21st-Century Literature and Art, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.[39]
  • Volker Albus, Adélia Borges, Axel Kufus, Tapiwa Matsinde, Divia Patel, Bahia Shehab, Eggarat Wongcharit, Zhang Jie, Pure Gold: Upcycled! Upgraded!, Leipzig: Spector Books, 2017


  • O’Kane, Bernard & Shehab, Bahia, “The Epigraphy of the Mausoleum of Yahya al-Shabihi”, in Doris Behrens-Abouseif Festschrift, Gingiko Press, 2016.[41]
  • Shehab, Bahia, “The Granddaughters of Scheherazade”, in Companion to International Children's Literature, Dr. John Stephens, Dr. Celia Abicalil Belmiro, Dr. Alice Curry, Dr. Li Lifang. Dr.Yasmine S. Motawy eds., Routledge, 2016.[42]
  • Shehab, Bahia, “Emotional Translation”, in Translating Dissent: Voices from and with the Egyptian Revolution, ed. Mona Baker, NY: Routledge, 2016, pp. 163–177 [43]
  • Shehab, Bahia, “A Thousand Times No”, in No Gods, No Masters, No Peripheries: Global Anarchisms, Barry Maxwell & Raymond Craib eds., Michigan: PM Press, 2015, pp. 233–241.[44]
  • Shehab, Bahia, A Designer's Dream: Helmi el-Touni Exhibition Catalog, Graphic Design Program at AUC, 2014.
  • Shehab, Bahia, “Landscape/Soundscape: 20 Minarets from the Arab World”, In World Architecture, March 2014.[45]
  • Shehab, Bahia, “Quran Lectern of Judge Zaineddine Yahya, Majordomo of Sultan Jaqmaq,” in Arab Contemporary - Architecture and Identity, Michael Juul Holm & Mette Marie Kallenhauge eds. Humlebæk: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art & Rosendahls, 2014, pp. 33–34.
  • Shehab, Bahia, “Spraying NO,” in Walls of Freedom, Basma Hamdy & Don Karl eds. Malta: From Here to Fame, 2014, pp. 117–119.
  • Shehab, Bahia, “Urban Dialogues,” in Positions - Arabich Worlt, Johannes Ebert et el. ed. Göttingen: Steidl-Verlag, 2013, pp. 274–278.
  • Shehab, Bahia, “Faṭimid Kūfī Epigraphy on the Gates of Cairo: Between Royal Patronage and Civil Utility,” in Calligraphy and Architecture in the Muslim World, Mohammad Gharipour & Irvin Cemil Schick eds. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 275–289.[46]
  • Shehab, Bahia, "Voices From the Region: Cairo as Mirror," in Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts, authors Harm J. de Blij, Peter O. Muller & Jan Nijman, USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2013, pp. 315.
  • Shehab, Bahia, “GD 99: They Called Us the Harem,” in Revolution/Evolution: Two Decades and Four Hundred Designers Later, Leila Musfy ed., Beirut: American University of Beirut Press, 2013, pp. 152–153.
  • Shehab, Bahia, "Voices From the Region: Take Me to the Country of the Beloved." In Geography: Realms, Regions and Concepts, authors H.J. de Blij, Peter O. Muller, Jan Nijman, USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012, pp. 317.
  • Shehab, Bahia, A Thousand Times No - Alif Lam-Alif: The Visual History of the Lam-Alif. Amsterdam: Khatt Books, 2011.[47]

''A Thousand Times No The book is a research-based tribute to the wealth, diversity and freedom of expression in art from Islamic lands. It is a rejection of conformity and repression that often plagues the Arab and Islamic cultures. It traces chronologically the history of one letter form the Lam-alif (which also means NO in Arabic) on different items produced under Arab and Islamic patronage over a period of 1400 years from countries that span from Spain to the borders of China. "A Thousand Times No" is a bilingual book written, illustrated and designed by Bahia Shehab in conjunction with an installation by the artist under the same title at "The Tradition of Future 100 years after the exhibition ‘Masterpieces of Mohammadan Art'" (Munich-Germany, September 2010-February 2011)


  1. ^ "Bahia Shehab: Art As a Tool for Change". The Huffington Post. 24 March 2014. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Bahia Shehab". Khatt Foundation.
  3. ^ Agbana, Rotimi (2 April 2019). "Shehab, Bobby, Tosin Oshinowo, others featured on Visual Collaborative". Vanguard (Nigeria). Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  4. ^ Schmidle, Nicholas (9 September 2019). "Bahia Shehab's Anti-Brexit Street Art". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 11 September 2019. Shehab was born in Lebanon, lives in Egypt, and has fifty-six cousins, who represent twelve nationalities.
  5. ^ Freyne, Patrick. "Revolutionary art: the writing on the wall". The Irish Times. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Bahia - The American University in Cairo".
  7. ^ a b "First Graphic Design Grads: Creative Solutions for Community Engagement - The American University in Cairo".
  8. ^ "Introduction to Graphic Design". Edraak. 7 February 2018.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "ROUND 1 - الدورة الأولى – HUNDRED BEST ARABIC POSTERS".
  13. ^ "About the Award – Mahmoud Kahil Award".
  14. ^ "Prince Claus Fund".
  15. ^ Bahia Shehab (1977, Egypt/Lebanon), Prince Claus Fundation
  16. ^ Report from the 2016 Prince Claus Awards Committee May 2016
  17. ^ "A thousand times NO: Fellows Friday with Bahia Shehab". 7 September 2012.
  18. ^ a b "Bahia Shehab". Fine Acts.
  19. ^ "ARAB CONTEMPORARY - Architecture, Culture and Identity". World Architecture Community.
  20. ^ "Bahia Shehab's Mahmoud Darwish Project". 17 May 2016.
  21. ^ "Bahia Shehab's Mahmoud Darwish Project II". 30 August 2017.
  22. ^ "Bahia Shehab".
  23. ^ "The Lam-Alif Artist". The Cairo Review of Global Affairs. 16 May 2018.
  24. ^ Bahia Shehab (eg) Nuart Festival 2017
  25. ^ Gallery, Zilberman; Istanbul. "Bahia Shehab: The Chronicles of Flowers at Zilberman Gallery".
  26. ^ "Project Light". Fine Acts.
  27. ^ "About". PROJECT LIGHT.
  28. ^ "Shangri La artist in residence Bahia Shehab's upcoming exhibition will focus on women | Honolulu Museum of Art Blog". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  29. ^ "Shangri La artist in residence Bahia Shehab's upcoming exhibition will focus on women - Honolulu Museum of Art Blog".
  30. ^ "Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, & Design. | Bahia Shehab Mural Jam". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  31. ^ a b Shehab, Bahia. "Bahia Shehab - Speaker - TED".
  32. ^ "Who are the 100 Women 2014?". 26 October 2014 – via
  34. ^ Prince Claus Fund (13 December 2016). "2016 Prince Claus Laureate Bahia Shehab" – via YouTube.
  35. ^ Museum, Victoria and Albert (20 May 2016). "Jameel Prize 4 - Bahia Shehab" – via Vimeo.
  36. ^ "UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture awarded to Bahia Shehab and eL Seed - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization".
  37. ^ "Obama Foundation Announces Additional Information on Inaugural Summit". Obama Foundation.
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ "9783959051729: Pure Gold: Upcycled! Upgraded! - AbeBooks - Volker Albus; Adelia Borges; Axel Kufus; Tapiwa Matsinde; Divia Patel; Bahia Shehab; Eggarat Wongcharit; Zhang Jie: 3959051727".
  41. ^ "Art, Trade, and Culture in the Islamic World and Beyond" – via
  42. ^ "The Routledge Companion to International Children's Literature: 1st Edition (Hardback) - Routledge".
  43. ^ "Translating Dissent: Voices From and With the Egyptian Revolution, 1st Edition (Paperback) - Routledge".
  44. ^
  45. ^ "ARAB CONTEMPORARY - Architecture, Culture and Identity". World Architecture Community.
  46. ^ "Calligraphy and Architecture in the Muslim World". Edinburgh University Press Books.
  47. ^ "A Thousand Times No, A Visual History of the Lam-Alif" – via