Graphic Design

Culture, Identity and Visuality with Shamma Buhazza

Originally from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Shamma Buhazza (@shamma.buhazza) is a graphic designer currently based in Germany. A design graduate from Parsons, New York, Buhazza has worked between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, both as a freelancer and in design studios, before moving to work for Adidas HQ. Buhazza’s fascinating portfolio features a strong undercurrent of social, political and cultural themes; showcasing a stunning array of conceptual and ideological meanderings woven into her visual work.

“Being born and raised in the Emirates, and coming from an Emirati, British and Somali background,” Buhazza explains, “I am in constant question as to what culture and identity mean to me.” Thoughts such as these are prevalent in Buhazza’s design work, which she explains as an expressive outlet for examining and unpicking some of these complexities; articulating further, “my association with the place I come from is blurred, which leads to me using graphic design as a form of expression to understand, archive, and revive the past.” 

Significantly, Buhazza has explored cultural divides of the East and West – the tensions between their differing values and ideals – and the subsequent cultural divides, misunderstandings and resentments emerging between different groups in the UAE. This cultural amalgamation, as cities have undergone rapid change through the effects of globalisation and Westernisation, formed a central point of Buhazza’s design thesis in Parsons, Decoding the Cultural Divide in the UAE, 2015. Through this, Buhazza explored ways of visualising the merging of traditional and futuristic cultures through typographic, editorial and graphic design.The cover design features a fascinating visual amalgamation of cubic, three-dimensional, futuristic typographic work; seamlessly entwined with references to traditional Islamic design.

With a nod to Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, Buhazza explains that she likes to explore Arabic typography in her visual work, both in phonetic and script form; her current work focussing on
 “language, identity, and cultural overlaps.” Buhazza’s 2018 project Halla Walla, a typographic treatment of the phrase, which loosely translates to “What’s up?” or “Welcome,” plays with language and slang in visual form. The design, created as a mural and tote bag for the Fully Booked Fair in Dubai, plays with both phonetic and script form and makes a bold, vibrant statement. Similarly, Hierarchy in the Gulf, a 2018 poster design project, layers script and phonetic type in an exploration of its title; playing visually with conflict, hierarchy and fracture. 

In her 2019 project, Heroes and Villains, Buhazza’s beautiful, poignant and sensitive visual language explore these multiple themes further through an articulate and concise deployment of her typographic talents. A translation of a Khaleeji TV series called “Madinat Alriyah,” Buhazza tells us, Heroes and Villains tells a story of good vs. evil; a good man lost in darkness, in pursuit of his real identity.

Buhazza’s typographic design here gently references script, bringing her own ideas surrounding cultural overlaps, tensions, and questions of identity, together with the story of this translation incoherent, yet fractured, harmony. 
Shamma Buhazza’s work showcases a masterful sensitivity and curiosity surrounding the ties between visuality, typographic design and the world around her. Tying together so many threads of influence, Buhazza’s work is as visually enticing as it is thought-provoking; meaning her work truly is a typographic force to be reckoned with.