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From Basra to The World: Design & Heritage

Image provided courtesy of UNESCO Iraq

Is Basra's heritage a design trend then resonates with global audiences? When we say Basra - what comes to your mind? Palms? Poetry? Ships sailing down the Shatt Al-Arab? Creative Iraq is looking to find out. Earlier this month, as part of a celebration of Basra's heritage through the generous support of UNESCO Iraq and the European Union, Creative Iraq introduced its first designathon in Basra, taking participants on a journey through heritage and design.

The heritage of Basra is rich - not only through its famous Shanasheel buildings, but also through its music, oral traditions, and its relationship between both land and sea. Following UNESCO's recent restoration of a number of buildings in the Azhar district of the city, a two-week series of events were conducted to bring together local artists, creatives, and storytellers to mark the occasion.

Creative Iraq brought its experience of history, heritage, and design to a group of young local graphic designers who were keen to explore how their skills can be used to not only generate income, but to also showcase the heritage of Basra through modern designs that work perfectly in a modern home.

Image provided courtesy of UNESCO Iraq

Through our online sales platform, we have seen that Iraqi designs have proven to be popular with diaspora communities - particularly in the UK, Germany, and the USA. These prints colourfully create modern pieces that represent heritage in a manner that is created through local artists rather than artificially produced designs that draw on online data. Working with creatives lends agency to how culture and heritage is represented on a global scale, whilst also curating hand crafted designs that connect emotional with audiences.

During this session, participants explored the meaning of heritage, emphasing that not just the urban environment is representative. Breaking down this stereotype is essential in understanding the intrinsic wealth of heritage, and the role it can play in building the economy. A great discussion was had as participants explored how symbols of the city can be reflected in palm trees, poetry, buildings, and Mesopotamia's rich history.

Image provided courtesy of UNESCO Iraq

But who else is producing heritage based products for consumption? Participants explored the role of museums and the entertainment industry play a huge part in cultural production but often without the involvement of local creatives, missing a huge opportunity for community empowerment and local agency - another failure to decolonise archaeology and isolate populations from their past. Creative Iraq firmly believes in the role of local producers in museum gift shops that fosters economic growth, away from mass produced items that build profits for museums.

Our creatives were then introduced to global design trends based on data collected by Creative Iraq, exploring how such themes appear not only in physical products, but also through social media and the service industry. Following the presentations, it was time to get creative. With a focus on the icons of Basra discussed earlier, the design sprints commenced where the participants could start creating designs of their posters. Guided by the team who had extensive experience in heritage and graphic design, the design process was divided into 3 distinct phases: ideation, prototype, and finalisation.

Image provided courtesy of UNESCO Iraq

The second day started with the finalisation design sprint with a chance to get feedback from the team before they presented their work to the group. Participants shared their designs whilst also emphasising why they have chosen their aspect of Basra's heritage and how it related to modern market trends. Building a clear product narrative that connects with potential customers is essential, and heritage is a great way to do so.

Image provided courtesy of UNESCO Iraq

The graphic design community in Basra, as well as across Iraq, have incredible skills that could prove invaluable in creating quality prints that match the market needs but also build those connections with tourism and global marketplaces. Creative Iraq and new partners will be exploring over 2024 how to connect with tourists to understand what products are being consumed by those visitors, and is the market in Iraq reflective of that. A strong cultural scene supports job creation and promotes positive growth, and through events such as the one held in Basra, creative energy pushes innovation. We will continue to work with those designers and support them on their creative journey.

Image provided courtesy of UNESCO Iraq

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