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11 June 2014

Charmed by Bokja

I've been charmed!

I didn't find Day One of Beirut Design Week to be all that special, but I was glad to have went - because Bokja Design Studio created a little corner of charm amidst the chaotic, bores of exhibitions in Saifi Village.

They've executed various installations in the past - none that I had seen. This was my Bokja first.

In Lebanon, and pardon the obnoxiousness, mne7leba - i.e. we tend to milk the hell out of certain trends. Product design is no exception, and we've abused the element of quirk. But for some reason, I didn't get the feeling Bokja Design were trying too hard to be charming. It felt really natural despite the cacophony of color. As soon as you enter the venue, you're no longer in a regular room in Saifi Village - you're somewhere unidentifiable, amidst eclectic elements of funk.

Here are some photos, but to be honest - they don't do the installation any justice. It's a 360-degree, immersive sort of experience.

Photograph courtesy of Bokja Design Studio
Photograph courtesy of Bokja Design Studio
Photograph courtesy of Bokja Design Studio

Photograph courtesy of Bokja Design Studio

Photograph courtesy of Bokja Design Studio

Event poster

I have to stay Bokja Design Studio really excel in presenting their products interactively.

Check out their website to browse their designs, or stop by their Facebook Page.

P.S. My birthday is coming up and my eye is on this:

(Low-res because I was fawning over the steel structure) 

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10 June 2014

A Farewell to F/I/M²/P

When it comes to getting to know the crème of the crop in local design, illustration, photography and even fashion design, one should look no further than F/I/M²/P, an independent Lebanese publication devoted to showcasing  a prime selection of, both local and global, fashion, illustration, music, movies and photography (hence the acronym).

Two years, ten issues, and a whole lot of awesome content later, the F/I/M²/P-sters will be bidding our eyeballs farewell with the release of their final issue and second anniversary celebration on Wednesday the 11th.

To mark the occasion, I had a chat with the duo who originally conceived F/I/M²/P, Mohamad Abdouni and Rudy Shaheen, to get the lowdown on how it all came to be.


Pheel: When was F/I/M²/P first established, and how?

F/I/M²/P: Well F/I/M²/P started out a couple of years back, and quite a while before issue 0 ever came out. The idea came one very late work night (towards the early hours of the morning), when we (Mohamad & Rudy) had the juvenile and naive thought of starting our own magazine; something we had both wanted to do for a while it seemed, and just never happened to share that passion with each other up until that night.

We literally started working on it the next day, and almost a while later we published our first issue. This doesn't go without mentioning that we had Karl, our associate editor, on board with us since the very beginning and had both Charlie and Krystel  join in later on, along with an amazing group of talented folk who have come and gone and left their mark.

Everyone came from some kind of design background, whether it was illustration, photography, fashion...

Pheel: What was your intention with this publication, and what were you looking to bring to the table, that Beirut was missing? 

F/I/M²/P: We wanted a sandbox for everyone to play around in and for us to share what we wanted everyone to listen to, watch and check out. We didn't think it would get this much hype, we didn't think we'd end up quitting our jobs and see this grow and gain an audience. We were genuinely humbled to see the outcome and still are.

Beirut had its fair share of decent, and at times fantastic, visual publications that either dealt with comics, or photography, or (less so) fashion. None however, we thought, joined all these fields together in one place. We believed fashion, illustration, music, movies and photography worked well together and intertwined often. "Let's!".

What we discussed had international reach but came from a Middle Eastern, and mostly Lebanese, perspective in the sense that it was shot, illustrated and written by Lebanese talents. That was our aim. That was what we wanted to see and put out there.

Pheel: The magazine has often been lauded for its visuals and aesthetic. On what basis were you recruiting visual contributors, and what kind of “vibe” were you trying to create?

F/I/M²/P: There was no real specific look we tried to go for while choosing contributors, nor specific criteria really. If a potential contributor had an "OK" from the majority of team members, they were in!

Pheel: Through the years, you’ve had various local talents toss in their optical touch to the stew. Who are some of your all-time favorites?

F/I/M²/P : We're not going to pretend like we didn't each have a few favorites, but you're not getting any of the dirt! Think of the chaos that would ensue!

Pheel: Putting an issue out every month or so must have been hectic and not without its adversities. What kinds of obstacles did you guys face?

F/I/M²/P : They were many, but nothing you wouldn't expect really, nothing out of the ordinary. Small business, arts and culture related ... You'd expect some drawbacks. Print, however, was quite the expensive hassle. We refuse to believe that print is dead and still have faith in people out there who still value the importance of print, but one must admit that few are the people who still do.

Pheel: If someone here in Lebanon were looking to get their very own independent magazine going, what advice would you give them?

F/I/M²/P: Don't!

Nah, but in all honesty, a good business plan before you go into it goes a long way. Scratch that. A fantastic full-proof extensive business plan is a must. Don't go in it alone, and know, for a fact, that it will be a long and grueling ordeal that will drain you. But goddammit, it's goddamn rewarding.

Send F/I/M²/P off in style tomorrow night at their second anniversary and final issue launch.

- Pheel

20 May 2014

See what you hear: a look at Lebanese album art

What do a prism refracting light, a naked baby swimming towards a dollar bill, and the Hindenburg disaster have in common? They’re all iconic album covers! As important as the music itself is, the visual aesthetic and format in which it is presented to the listener are just as essential.

In many cases, album artwork has pretty much been the defining factor that would dictate whether or not you were gonna leave a record store empty-handed, or with an exciting new musical acquisition that could either be a life-changing discovery that you will forever cherish, or a total disappointment and complete waste of your time and hard-earned money (screw you Gym Class Heroes. Screw. You.)

For this reason, I’d like to take time to give props to some albums that have come out of the Lebanese alternative music scene throughout the years, albums that went the extra mile in terms of design or packaging. These aren’t the only great looking albums over here, but they are some of my favorites, so let’s take a look, shall we?

SoapKills – Cheftak (2002)

A true Lebanese classic, this album by iconic Lebanese trip hop duo SoapKills boasts one gorgeous cover and design, done by Fadi Baki and Hatem Imam. The cover is intended to be in the style of a vintage Arab movie poster, one with some suspense and romance by the looks of it.

The painting-like illustration (by Baki) and anachronistic vintage-style Arabic typography work well to invoke the look and feel of old Arab cinema, a fitting parallel to the content of the album, which features some modern reworks and remixes of songs that also come from an older era, such as Aranis which borrows lyrics from Omar Al Zaenni’s Kello Ndeef and Tango which is a remix of Nour el Houda’s Tango el Amal.

Scrambled Eggs – Happy Together, Filthy Forever (2006)

The cover of post-punk band Scrambled Eggs’ Happy Together, Filthy Forever, designed and illustrated by Malak Beydoun and Yasmina Baz respectively, depicts a group of people gathered atop Beirut’s famous Pigeon Rock, mingling amongst one another, waiting for their turn to leap off the edge into the Mediterranean waters below. This is a very powerful image to me which can be interpreted in many ways.

I like to think that these people on the rock represent a young generation of Lebanese citizens who choose to live their lives differently from how the rest of society does, not caring about all the politics and chaos, just like how the rock itself exists alongside the city, but is kind of isolated from everything else that goes on within it. And these isolated teens, they’re carefree and adventurous, jumping off rocks and stuff…

The Incompetents – More Songs from the Victorious City (2008)

The Incompetents have never been what you’d call a conventional band. Not surprisingly, their debut album More Songs from the Victorious City did not come in a conventional package either. Designed by Alfred Tarazi, the album curiously features a hollowed out die-cut sleeve for a front. The sleeve houses 8 interchangeable square cards with visuals, one for each track on the album.

The cover of the album is variable: whichever card happens to be at the front becomes the album’s cover, until you decide to shuffle them again. Each card is the work of a different creative talent, from designers to illustrators to what seems to be a preschooler (no seriously, one of them is literally a child’s drawing), and contains lyrics and credits for the corresponding track. Incompetent? Far from it…

Meen – Live (2009)

When releasing their aptly titled live album, Live, comedy rock duo Meen chose an odd yet strangely fitting visual for its cover, designed by Hovsep Guerboyan: a near-identical replication of the iconic Ghandour biscuits package. But this tasty aesthetic treatment isn’t just some Warhol knockoff move; it actually makes a lot of sense.

The band’s sound is heavily based on good ol’ fashion classic rock, coupled with humorous and relatable Lebanese-dialect lyrics that endeared them to local audiences. So, the Ghandour biscuits work quite effectively as a symbol of what they’re all about, as it holds both great nostalgic value and undeniable Lebanese identity.

OkyDoky & Radio KVM – Tasjeelat Motafarriqa (2010)

I’m about to sound like a total hipster here, but: you’ve probably never heard of this one. This EP by Beirut-based electronic music duo OkyDoky and Radio KVM was never actually intended as a major commercial release, but was instead a humble self-made collection of live recordings from various gigs the two have played together.

Nonetheless, it makes a great case for the fact that just because you’re not putting out a fancy mass-distributed album, doesn’t mean you can’t give it some kickass artwork. In this case, that kickass artwork was provided by Fouad Mezher, depicting the two producers in gritty black and white surrounded by the tools of their trade. Big things come in small packages, including standard plastic CD-R cases.

Fareeq el Atrash – ‘Al Mawjeh el Tarsha (2013)

You don’t always have to go overboard to achieve a stylish feel for your album. Just look at Arabic hip hop band Fareeq el Atrash’s second album, ‘Al Mawjeh el Tarsha, designed and illustrated by Farah Fayyad. Going for the minimal approach, the package features a nice and simple three color scheme with yellow as the main color and black and white being the secondary ones.

The front displays some peculiar scribbly portraits of each band member’s head (not to mention the awesome Arabic language band logo designed by Omar Khouri), while the interior and back cover have some neatly arranged text. Simplicity used effectively.

Hello, Psychaleppo – Gool L’Ah (2013)

Beirut-based Syrian electronic musician Hello, Psychaleppo’s debut album Gool L’Ah has a very distinct sound and a very distinct look. The album comes enclosed in a sewn sleeve of plastic-like fabric (sorry, can’t identify every material through touch alone) with David Habchy’s designs printed onto it.

The design is bright and vibrant, with a rigid grid theme hinting to the precise and calculated electronic aspect of the music, while the black and white illustration of Oum Kolthoum in the center serves as a nod to the legends of tarab, which the music samples from and reinvigorates with its high-energy beats.

Another more visual aspect worth mentioning, though not directly part of the album’s design or packaging, is the Gool L’Ah Musical Artworks project, in which 12 artists from across the Middle East were commissioned to create posters inspired by a track from the album. The result is a series of diverse and spectacular posters showcasing 12 unique graphic interpretations of the album’s music, which you can see here.

Mashrou’ Leila – Raasuk (2013)

With their latest album Raasuk, Mashrou’ Leila had set forth a goal for themselves: to #OccupyArabPop. They certainly didn’t overlook the album’s design as an essential aspect in doing so, with frontman Hamed Sinno taking on the visual duties himself. The album packaging has an overall theme, which is air travel.

The cover features a man inflating a lifejacket, the interior depicts the band seated within an airplane, and the inside sleeve is adorned with a pattern of seatbelts. Finally, a folded insert containing lyrics and credits has a poster on the flipside which shows illustrations in the style of airline safety instructions, depicting a bellydancer putting on and inflating a lifejacket, then striking some poses.

 I believe that the lifejacket is a metaphor for breast augmentation, and it’s not such a drastic leap if you think about it, you know, with the inflation aspect and its position on your chest and stuff. But what’s the deal with boob jobs? Well, the album itself deals with themes such as struggling against the acceptable norm and resisting conformity (most explicitly conveyed in the track Lil Watan), and even the message behind the whole #OccupyArabPop campaign that preceded the album’s release was to break down barriers, destroying the notions of what an Arab pop star is expected to be and offer an alternative to the stereotypical botoxed boob-jobbed bimbos we’ve all gotten tired of. So logically: airplanes.

Honorable Mention:

Edd Abbas, Lipos & Elepheel – Tripnol (2013)

That Omar Al Fil really outdid himself with this one…


This piece was originally published on

18 May 2014

Who's behind Art7ake?

Nader Dagher is,

and this is him:

It's probable that you've been seeing his name a lot on your Facebook timeline lately; from West Lebanon to East, North to South - a LOT of Lebanese social media users have been setting his images as cover images and as Whatsapp pictures. They've also been inserting them into mini-keychain frames, tattooing them on their wrists, and texting them to their lovers (I may have made some scenarios up, but they're not far-fetched).

His designs have an indie, melancholic feel to them, but at the same time, they're anything but dreamy - they're minimalistic, with short-and-anything-but-sweet puns.

If you're fortunate enough to know Arabic - they'll certainly hit your sweet-spot. It's difficult to relate to them if you only know Arabic superficially, and more so, colloquial Lebanese Arabic - so in a sense they cater to a single demographic.

I got the chance to chit-chat with نادر داغر.

Bananapook: What’s the story behind Art 7ake? 

Nader Dagher: I was feeling homesick one night, and I was browsing through some pictures of Beirut when I decided to create something that reflects that feeling. Knowing that I had seen some designs that had Arabic writing on them earlier that day, I started working on one that had the word “Homesick” in it, written in Arabic. I shared the design afterwards to my Facebook profile and people really loved it and engaged with it. After that, I started working on some other designs and later decided to open up a page, and I called it “Art7ake” cause it was all about words, wordplay and expression.

rain reminds me of you Arabic
"The rain reminds me of you"

B: If you were to describe the text aspect to a foreigner, what would you say?

ND: There are different concepts on Art7ake, and to describe them to a foreigner, I would say wordplay/puns mainly, where I associate a visual to a word that means two things at the same time. Other than that, it’s pure self expression, emotions and random thoughts.

My stomach is running arabic
"My stomach is running" (a polite way to declare diarrhoea) 

pliers I forget a lot arabic
"I forget a lot" (In Arabic, the word for "pliers" and "I forget" are the same)

you made me a know arabic
The words for "a knot" and "a complex situation" are also the same

B: If you had to choose one of your images to describe your mood right now, which one would it be?

ND: It would be “Homesick”. It’s a very dominant feeling when you live abroad away from friends and family.

homesick arabic

B: You describe Art7ake as a personal project. Do you work full-time?

ND: Yes, I’m a full time employee, and I work on Art7ake after working hours and on weekends. I enjoy working on it as I use it to express and challenge myself into creating something new every single time.

skoun live in my heart arabic
Arabic wordplay; "Live in my heart" 

B: When will be launched, and what services will it offer? 

K: should be up and running during the next couple of months hopefully. People will be able to order their favorite designs on canvas, t-shirts and other materials that can serve as decoration or gifts. There are much bigger plans for Art7ake, but I’ll keep that as a surprise.

mashrou3 leila shim el yasmine
Lyrics from Mashrou3 Leila's "Shim el Yasmine"

take me to beirut beyrouth arabic
"Take Me to Beirut"; this one is my favorite.

B: Will you be selling any canvases and t-shirts offline in Beirut?

K: There are no plans for selling offline at the moment, but you never know what might happen to change that!

Nader is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Zoomaal. He intends on taking Art7aké large-scale, with custom products, delivery options and more. If you chip in, you get a bunch of neat Art7aké products. He needs $15,000 to get this going. Here, let him tell you about it:


Art 7aké on Facebook



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All images on Bananapook are copyrighted material and all rights are reserved to the respective artists.

A Well-thought-out Thought

A Well-thought-out Thought