Annan Shehadi

Graphic Designer

What’s your creative profession, and what led you to pursue it?

I am a graphic designer. I have loved art since I was a child, but no one encourages you to become an artist because it’s not going to make you any money or provide you with a strong career. I took one graphic arts class in high school and really enjoyed it, but I still wasn’t so sure about my career path.

When it was time to apply to college, I was debating between architecture and graphic design. My school guidance counselor was really trying to push me towards architecture (I guess she felt it was more worthy of a career), and because I don’t like people telling me what to do or pushing me towards something, I applied to graphic design programs and so began the journey.

How has your creative journey been so far?

It’s been a good journey of discovering what type of environment I like, what type of work I like, and why I am doing what I am doing. I don’t want to create advertisements telling people to buy things that they don’t need. I prefer to design for good causes or small businesses with ethical practices.

Tell us more about your portfolio and the story behind your work.

What I’ve shared here is part of an installation piece called “Process of Assimilation, 1967–” and modelled after one of the only things my father brought with him to the United States after they left Palestine during the Naksa — an Arabic-English dictionary. His dictionary had a lot of markings, and as I flipped through, it was apparent that the types of words he was indicating were words that either helped him get by here or helped to describe the situation of his homeland — Blockade, Colonization, Liberate and Violence.

These are not words that typically appear in an average conversation. This dictionary is not only a remnant of his displacement, but it is representative of a necessity to learn a foreign language, and one that is to become a refugee or “displaced person’s” new dialect. I wanted to memorialize this object in a way that spoke to his displacement and assimilation in the United States, so I recreated the dictionary but stripped away everything that my father didn’t mark, everything that was not worth knowing. The dictionary exists in the state after the process of learning English, complete with traces of that process including simple marks, handwritten notes, and the inscription of the Americanized name given to my father by teachers and schoolmates. A photograph of his Palestinian home was displayed with the book, as a reference to the unreachable past, his place of origin, the place from which he departed, the reason it was necessary to learn English. A photo of a home to which he cannot return and a book representing the language of his new home, the past and the present recreated to exist simultaneously, as it often does in the reality of a Palestinian.

As for my design work samples, I really enjoy working on publications and there are two that I value — the Tall Buildings + Urban Habitat series and First Skyscrapers, Skyscraper Firsts. They are very different from each other, one filled with images of beautiful buildings and the other a very long, academic read.

What unique challenges or frustrations have you faced as a Muslim creative?

Thankfully, I haven’t received too many challenges for being Muslim (I’m sure it would be different if I was a hijabi), but I have been frustrated dealing with so many microaggressions in almost every place I’ve worked — for being Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on an evaluation report for the University of Chicago Inclusive Economy Lab, as well as doing some volunteer design for upcoming screenings of the Chicago Palestine Film Festival, graphics for the Coalition for Ethical Reporting on Palestine, and some personal work.

Chicago Palestinian Film Festival

Which individuals within the Muslim creative community do you admire?

There are so many designers, artists, and writers in the Muslim community that are wonderful, but I’ve mostly been inspired by the creatives I have personally interacted with throughout my life. If we are talking celebrities though – I think Riz Ahmed is great as an actor and director. His films are creative and I always have empathy for the characters he plays on screen. I also appreciate how he wants to give other creative Muslims opportunities.

What kinds of opportunities are you actively seeking or hoping to explore within your creative journey?

I would like to make more art, and find opportunities to exhibit artwork. It has been some time since I have created any art pieces or exhibited any work, and I truly want to get back to that. I am also seeking opportunities for writing, as I would really like to employ writing as another primary creative practice.

How can people get in touch to collaborate with you?

Send me an email at [email protected] or message me here. You can also visit my website: annanshehadi.com

How does your cultural background influence your creative process?

I am Palestinian. It permeates everything regardless if I want it to or not. As an artist, so much of my work and practice focuses on themes of displacement, home, and the resistance to the destruction of our heritage. It also reinforces the idea of justice for all, so when I take on creative work, I make sure that it doesn’t harm any community.

What are your long-term goals as a Muslim creative?

I plan to continue freelancing design work, but also create a small business that I won’t detail here. I also want art and writing to become a regular part of my artistic practice.

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