Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to shift our original plans for Leaders: Europe, to kick-off our first virtual program, we still wanted to work with a talented artist to create a unique design and brand for the program. Following in the footsteps of our Leaders: Africa and Leaders: Asia-Pacific artists is Kinda Ghannoum, a Syrian-Polish architect, artist, and graphic designer based in Brussels, Belgium.
Even though the Leaders: Europe program shifted to a smaller, virtual format in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kinda captured the diversity of the region and the creative spirit of the dozens of emerging leaders from 18 countries that make up the inaugural cohort.
We sat down with the rising designer to learn more about her story, her work, and her process for creating the beautiful and fresh representation of the European region. Check out what she had to say below.
On her family
“I was born in Poland. I’m half Syrian, half Polish. When I was around three-years-old, my parents decided that we were going to move to Syria. I grew up there and lived my entire life there. My mom is Polish, and it meant a lot seeing how she was accepted when we first moved there and how was able to find support. Even though I live in Brussels now, Syria will always be home.”
“I also grew up in a very artistic family. I’m the oldest of three daughters—my middle sister Maya also studied architecture, but my youngest sister, Nadine, went to art school. She actually helped me on the Leaders: Europe project, but I’ll talk more about that later. She did an amazing job.
“My dad and my uncle are artists, and they both teach at a university school of art.They are more into interior design, but they create a lot of art on the side. So, I was always surrounded by art, especially Arabic art. My uncle used Arabic calligraphy, and he has created beautiful pieces.”
On growing up in Syria
“I think most of the world sees nothing but bad headlines about Syria. It’s certainly true that very bad things have happened there and the Syrian people have endured a lot, but if you take a look at the country’s beauty, the art, and the inspiring people, I couldn’t imagine growing up anywhere else.
“My favorite place in Syria is Old Damascus. I love it. I’m a fan of all the damascene styles and when I feel like I’m mad or I need to think, I really love to go take a walk and discover all the houses. Those themes emerge throughout all my work, as do Arabic patterns.”
“Currently, I’m working on a project where a small team and I are building an Instagram archive Opens in a new tab of Arabic typography forms found in Syrian streets, stamps, prints, and other media. It’s a new project, but I’m trying my best to make people see what I saw there. To me, the best art pushes you to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”
On architecture and design
“Building on my family’s background in art and my upbringing in Syria, I went to university to become an architect. It wasn’t quite the same as being an artist, but I was still drawing designs and creating things. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the class part or learning some technical things (laughter), but when I got to design theory, I really loved it. And my background in architecture has a big influence on my work today.
“I graduated during the war in Syria, which—as you can imagine—made it very difficult to find a job as an architect. Instead, I started looking for other jobs, and through a series of coincidental events, I ended up participating in a design startup weekend in Syria. I decided to go try something new, and this event was my first as a graphic designer. In three days, our team won the first-place prize! That moment helped me decide to go back to graphic design art.”
“Even as I transitioned back to graphic design, the way I study things when I receive a project is kind of architectural in a way; how I solve the problems I’m presented. To me, graphic design has a more architectural approach than what you might assume.”
On creating the Leaders: Europe design
“For this project, it was very important for me to find something that all the countries represented in the program had in common. It proved difficult. At first, I considered flags as an obvious element all countries have, but I wanted something that was even more specific. In just three days, I found the coats of arms for European countries. I knew that was the winning concept.
“After I settled on the coat of arms approach and their vibrant color schemes, that’s when my youngest sister, Nadine Opens in a new tab , came in. We are very close and think alike, so she was the perfect partner to get feedback from. She specializes in illustration and branding, and she helped animate the final designs.”
On the future
“When the Leaders: Europe program launched, I was so excited. I was scrolling down the page all day! I was very happy to see it done. We did it, and it’s hard to express how I felt when I first saw it. My family was also so excited to see our work. The leaders in the Leaders: Europe program can see the power of diversity, unity, and equality. They are moving past old disputes and borders to work together for a better future. And I hope my designs show that.
“Teaming up with the Obama Foundation was a meaningful project to me, and I’ll never forget it. It renewed my energy for whatever lies ahead.
“In terms of my future and what’s next, I’m in Belgium now to get my master’s in fine art to support my experience and to enhance my academic knowledge after working in the field for five years. I’m continuing to build my portfolio in Belgium and expand my network, and I’m looking forward to seeing what new opportunities will arise as I freelance in Belgium with clients from around the world.”