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TR Interview with Hani Alireza


We share a moment with Hani Alireza; Dubai resident,  founder of Wasta T-shirt brand, graphic and motion designer and future VJ . He gives us his take on his graphic work, Arabic design and life in Dubai. 

What pushed you to create Wasta?

T-shirts are one of the best mediums to express design work. They are like a canvas to showcase design.

When people buy a graphic t-shirt it describes something about their personality and it’s nice to have that interaction between designing something and having someone appreciating it and wearing it.

What message are you trying to convey with Wasta?

Wasta is a framework to experiment with Arabic design and graphics. I grew up in Saudi Arabia but was influenced by both Arab and Western culture and both those influences are reflected in the Wasta brand.

There’s a certain attitude to the Wasta brand that comes through but there’s no real social or political motivation behind it. I am not trying to do something intentionally offensive, because that’s of no interest to me. I find it more interesting to create designs that are open to different interpretation, enabling people to have a different opinion within a particular framework.

What inspires you?

‘Creative obsessive’ people who are really into their trade. Everyone has heard those stories of musicians, film makers, artists who were really into their craft – sometimes obsessed about it.

Do you find those kind of ‘obsessive’ people in Dubai?

I haven’t really met those kind of people in Dubai, although that’s not to say they don’t exist. I have however, met some very ambitious people here who are going places. I particularly liked James Clar’s work that was exposed at the Traffic gallery in Dubai.

How would you describe Dubai’s design scene?

When you look at Western design, you get the feeling that so much has already been explored, and that there’s so many participants in a cluttered field. Arabic graphic design on the other hand, still is in its infancy stage, meaning there’s still so much to explore.

Every opportunity  I get to work with Arabic typography and design I always try to think of how I can do something different and push the boundaries of Arabic design.

When I first started working, there were very few people trying to push Arabic typography and design, hence why I set up Wasta. Things have evolved a bit since then.

How do you respond to the clichéd saying “Dubai has no soul or culture”?

I think Dubai is misunderstood. It’s always been a commercial, not a cultural city. In the old days the city was built around the creek and the port, trading pearls and basic goods was what the city was all about.

Your question comes down to defining what soul and culture mean? Every place has its own breed of culture, and Dubai’s is very different to say conventional European cities. It’s just about accepting what Dubai is – a modern city that is defining itself as we speak.

I don’t think people come to Dubai for the culture. Or rather, they come here for a different form of culture: to work, shop and have fun.

How does Dubai compare to other established scenes like London or New York?

I tend not to compare Dubai to other international cities like London or New York. Instead, I compare the city to Saudi, where I grew up and other regional places like Kuwait, Bahrain etc.

Both Saudi and the UAE have a lot of similarities in terms of landscape, people, customs, culture, heritage etc. But at the same time, KSA is a lot more conservative and the laws are more restrictive.

Dubai’s open-mindedness and dynamism is what shocked me the most when I first moved here ten years ago. It demonstrates how a city can hold on to its Arabic identity as much as it can and at the same time be open minded and become an ambitious city. It’s a constant balancing game.

Which places in Dubai inspire you?

There is no particularly place that inspires me in Dubai, it’s the city as a whole that inspires me. It’s very ambitious. Dubai gives you the opportunity to thrive; if you manoeuvre it in the right way you can really go far in this city.

People can be very negative about Dubai but I find it’s got so much positive energy. I’ve seen the city grow so much over the last ten years and have met so many people in this city who’ve come here and turned their dreams into reality.

But at the same time, I wouldn’t consider Dubai to be my favourite city. It has a lot going on but I definitely have days where I feel I want to leave.

What’s your take on censorship in Dubai?

I don’t find censorship to be that bad in the UAE. Dubai is like a walk in the park compared to Saudi.

Going to the movies and getting scenes censored can be really annoying, but I don’t get frustrated and face censorship on a daily basis here, plus these days with the internet, everything is available online.

What’s next in the pipeline for you?

A lot more design and branding work. I’ll also be putting together a new collection of Wasta T-shirts and I’m also working on some cool experimental video stuff which will hopefully see the light of day this year!

Discover Hani Alireza’s work on:


Images: courtesy of Hani Alireza