This week, our Hidden Histories seminar examines Archives and Beyond: Strategies for Historical Research in Gender in Design. DHS Ambassador Alexandra Banister meets Dina Benbrahim, Endowed Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Arkansas, to further discuss her research on the Amazigh design archive.
What is your background and how did you develop an interest in design history?
I have a background in business, advertising, and design for social justice. I always loved discussing and connecting ideas in context across time and geographies. But I truly developed an interest in history when I did not feel represented in the design canon as a North African, Moroccan woman. I became eager to discover stories that have been systematically erased to expand my understanding of design. In this personal endeavour, I encouraged my design students to do the same with creative prompts.
What does your research focus on?
My research investigates design for visibility, civic action, and social justice for marginalized communities to contribute to more equitable futures.
Your talk is part of a wider seminar series on Hidden Histories: Gender in Design, how does this apply to your work?
I am dedicated to illuminating the power inherent within stories of minoritized communities to inspire individual and societal impact — especially women’s stories. Amazigh women weavers (indigenous to North Africa) used design to preserve the Amazigh culture and identity, despite centuries of colonization and patriarchy, yet are barely credited for it. Beyond being hidden stories, they have been intentionally erased to serve a political agenda, which is profoundly sad.
Please tell us about an interesting piece of design you have discovered as part of your research.
I am fascinated by the Amazigh visual language and symbology. The triangle is a base symbol in Amazigh orality and artifacts until today. It refers to Tanit, the pre-Islamic mother goddess of fertility and the moon as well as the patron goddess of Carthage, a city North of today’s Tunisia. I have never heard of Tanit in any history class yet her symbol was omnipresent in everyday life objects. Even if history tried to erase her, she survived in the collective unconscious — that, in and of itself, is powerful.
A flatweave rug by Samira Oberak from Association Timouzounin located in Tadula Zanfi, Morocco. Photo taken by the Anou Cooperative, an award-winning collective of over 600 artisans from cooperatives, associations, and workshops across Morocco: https://www.theanou.com/product/16450-flatweave-rug