Egyptomania is a term used across many disciplines to describe the fascination with all things Egyptian, and the concept was named after the French invasion and occupation of Egypt in the early 19th century. The portrayal of Egypt in American society still uses tropes from this time period, and examples can be found across American fashion, music, literature, architecture, art, film, politics and religion. In this research-based design project, I engage graphic design as a thinking tool to explore the lasting effects and hidden consequences of American Egyptomania, and to offer strategies for facilitating dialogue and action among Egyptian-Americans.
Through in-depth interviews, ethnographic research, quantitative and qualitative research methods, and a literature review, this work intends to understand the historical and modern context of American Egyptomania, and to propose a solution that allows the lived experiences of modern Egyptian-Americans to be centered.
The project outcome emphasizes co-creation of meaning, creativity, collaboration, and participation.
For centuries, Egyptomania has thwarted Egyptian identity. I set out to research how I can use my role as a designer to create an educational campaign to decolonize the Egyptomania narrative. But through my research, I pivoted to understand that Egyptian-Americans simply need a way to discuss and explore their Egyptian-American identity in order to gain a sense of belonging, because their cultural heritage has long been told by others.
America embodied Egyptomania in the 19th century, and the modern consequences are easy to spot. The Washington Monument was constructed in 1848 after an Egyptian Obelisk to symbolize America’s supposed power and timelessness, and, Harlem Renaissance artists used Egyptian imagery on The Crisis Magazine in 1911 to combat racist views toward Black Americans. Both of these examples are still in active use by the way, and play a role in various cultural conversations; different groups in America use Ancient Egypt in contradictory ways.
Process and Research
I did in-depth interviews with 15 participant-collaborators. I was able to understand the historical context and modern consequences of Egyptomania from my group of stakeholders. With these research partners, I was able to uncover some unique insights on the subject.
I created two versions of the toolkit. One in full color, and another in monochrome. I used a Riso printer for the monochrome prints and an ink jet printer for the full color. I also designed a custom box. The box template and toolkit are available for free download.
What I Learned:
The toolkit provides a focal point and an entry point for participants to talk about tricky and sensitive topics, and that was pretty powerful to watch.
Cards facilitate experiential outcomes and co-creation of meaning, not just conversation.
Co-creation creates a sense of belonging within communities.