Many Americans who want to push back against the current administration’s anti-refugee efforts may be feeling a bit helpless or frustrated trying to determine the best course of action. Beyond donating to large aid organizations, making phone calls to representatives, marching in protests, and attending demonstrations (all worthwhile), is there a design-related solution that would feel more personal, more targeted towards solving a specific problem? What good can just one person do on his or her own, anyway? Take Syrian-American graphic designer Rima Massasati, who volunteered as an art teacher at a refugee camp in Thessaloniki, Greece for several weeks last year and saw for herself what she could do once she got back to the U.S.
Her poster project, 4 Corners, set out to raise funds for medical assistance and blankets, with 30% of donations earmarked towards providing art supplies for children. “From the four corners of my screen to the four corners of a poster to the four corners of a warm blanket, I drew a direct line of what I could do as an individual to help,” says Massasati.
Tell us about the way you approached your poster designs; some use a photo, some are abstract collages of organic shapes, and some are based on traditional Syrian mosaics.
In the posters using abstract shapes, I wanted to express a refugee’s dangerous boat trip from Turkey to Greece. One poster, Capsized in the Daytime, represents what people from a capsized boat would look like from a bird’s eye view, floating in the water. The Syrian tropes are based on traditional patterns and motifs I remember from mosaic furniture and woodwork in my grandmother’s house. The playing card series featuring Syrian sculptures refer to historical sites like Palmyra, where ancient artifacts are being destroyed. Syria had a beautiful culture, from architecture to theater to the arts, and it’s all being lost. The war feels like a terrible game, and the cards reference that.
Why not spend all the donations on blankets, your initial inspiration for the project? What made you decide to spread it out over other things?
Before I got there, I assumed blankets were needed most. Once I arrived, though, I realized that crayons and construction paper brought a sense of home and hope to the children. The kids were fascinated to hear about graphic design. So many asked what I do but when I said I was a designer they didn’t quite understand what that was. One child had a Superman coloring book and I pointed to the S on his chest and said a designer possibly made that. Several kids reacted with excitement and wanted to know more. It was a nice moment to share what I love doing with the kids.
Do you see yourself expanding 4 Corners?
Yes! The next step is to invite the design community to create and donate their own posters to sell on the website, maybe stage an exhibit, and sell merchandise like totes and T-shirts. I would love to make blankets out of the posters and auction them off. They look like quilts already!