PAD Issue #11 is online. This issue is completely dedicated to the Mediterranean design with interesting contributions coming from different authors living and working in the countries of this part of the world.
Why are we addressing the topic of Mediterranean Emergency and Activism?
Because the critical situation of the Mediterranean area, that in the last years run into an acute condition of emergency due to strong social conflicts and demonstrations of public dissidence against political and social repression, especially in the field of art and design practices.
Lampedusa Island, in the south of Italy, is afflicted by the continuous clandestine disembarking and by serious sea crashes that have caused the death of many immigrants. The Syrian civil war records an increasing number of refugees. To escape the violence, more than two million Syrian refugees  have fled their country to neighboring countries as Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey. Refugees experiencing extremely poor and unsafe life conditions have overpopulated Gaza strip, like other Palestinian territories, for a long time. Meanwhile, protest movements have broken out in different regions, like Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, or the occupy movements and the Gezi protests in Istanbul.
Facing these troubles, expression of long-term unsolved problems, civil society demonstrates its disagreement, during public events and by social media, also creating visual artifacts like Calligrafiti or masks (as shown on our cover), and generally using design practices, going beyond the conventional conception of design as a marketing or styling tool (T. Balcioglu). Furthermore, the advent of ICT has enabled rapid production and widespread distribution possibilities, urging activism and the potentiality of creative dissidence.
This issue starts with an article, as introduction, by Tevfik Balcioglu, a renowned scholar and design historian in Turkey, who proposes an overview of Mediterranean emergency. Tevfik Balcioglu launches DAD! (Design Against Disasters!), asking for a design response in order to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis as well as to give voice to civil society in the Mediterranean area.
In his text, the Italian semiotic scholar Francesco Mangiapane, appeals to a “great conversation”, between all the citizens of the Mediterranean area, founded on different design disciplines that could be able to rebuild a constructive social and cultural collaboration facing the emergencies.
Concerning immigrants stories, the paper by Marta Amorós Torró, PhD of the Universidad de Girona (Spain), brings us back almost a century ago, for a retrospective analysis of emigration, seen in an opposite direction than today, when part of Spanish, Italian and Maltese population moved towards colonial Algeria, with a consequent strong sense of belonging to European-origin communities.
The paper by Raquel Pelta, a Spanish historian from the Barcelona University, analyzes Mediterranean phenomena of activist design. The text describes socio-political activism in Spain since the 60s, and its relation with art and design movements, which came into view particularly in the 90s.
The paper by Andreas Sicklinger and Reham Mohsen, design professors in Cairo, concerns the intensive use of graffiti around the cities of Egypt during the events of the last years of revolution, and analyzes the new use of faces in Graffiti as protesting images. Authors say “This phenomenon has raised through a social and psychological background […] which is referring to a new identity for the Egyptians”.
In this situation of chronic emergency, politically active design could find several solutions for everyday life, in order to decrease emergency seriousness. Marina Parente offers an overview of design research on emergency housing and temporary living, which represents “the intersection of practical needs with the aspiration, sometimes utopian, toward an extreme simplicity in living and an innate desire for freedom and exploration”.
The paper by Maria Antonietta Sbordone and Rosanna Veneziano presents an example of product-service design project for immigrants, for a better access to the healthcare system by peoples in the emergency areas. The text highlights the role of design, which leverages on ICT as a useful tool to improve accessibility, to share data and information, in order to develop an integrated assistance in which the immigrant citizen becomes part of a healthcare system.
And also my article presents a number of projects where the social approach of design emerges transforming power relations into a new social order.
The closing text is the reportage by Ziad Zitoun, which focuses on the “Arab spring” in Tunisia, Lybia and Egypt, shown very powerful examples of visual design. The article, both emotional and personal, illustrates socio-political movements and their relationships with art practices in the Southern Mediterranean coast. In the mean time it describes the roles of network technologies as catalysts of activism phenomena in the public space.
Nowadays, Mediterranean emergency reality represents a primary challenge for designers toward a socio-cultural evolution and an economic renovation of this part of the world.
Cover photo: Nefertiti with gas mask, designed by El Zeft, worn by women during a manifestation in Cairo downtown. Photo by El Zeft (Egypth). The same mask was used during “Egypt : sexual assaults on women must stop” German protest.