by Rahul KumarSep 21, 2022
Furqan Jawed is a Brooklyn-based, Indian graphic designer whose work encompasses several core interests. Much of it toes the line between what many might consider graphic design, and artistic practice. While some consider his work to be retro-futurist in its inspirations, it is more likely best enjoyed as its own body of work, rather than risk diluting its startling originality in a sea of influences. Jawed’s response to questions of inspiration supports this, and he tells STIR that he cannot point to specific artists who he would consider crucial to his practice. While he does mention some practicing creatives who he find interesting, it is clear that his work is his and his alone.
Jawed discusses one of his most evocative works, saying “In 2020, I became very interested in photographs of the Earth. One of the works in this series I produced was the Blue Marble publication, wherein I reproduced one of the most reproduced images of the Earth. The Blue Marble image was displayed on a computer screen, and photographed with a digital camera, and the resultant image was re-photographed…and so on. This process was repeated over 378 times, until finally, the image began to lose information and started becoming distorted.” Visible markers within the image, all key to identifying it for what it is, or rather once was, such as clouds, continental land masses, and bodies of water, all of these eventually disintegrate into grainy pixels, becoming ghostly remnants of the once lush world we identify ourselves as a part of. Eventually, all one is left with are arid patches of grey and black, surrounded by a red and blue halo, which Jawed identifies as iconic markers of man-made digital photography - a strange sort of event horizon for visual information. After 378 cycles, this once critical photograph becomes completely unrecognisable as an image of the Earth, taking on a new truth; one that speaks to the challenges and burdens placed upon a single image to represent all of humanity and the home we inhabit. Jawed explains that his piece serves a second purpose as well: he has conceived it as a poetic enactment that emphasises the problematics created when the Earth is objectified and commodified in a capitalist society, as well as the complexities of The Blue Marble images when used in a western eco-activist context.
Jawed tells STIR, “The Earth is an image of the ultimate home, a home for the species, but this extremely zoomed out version is the one that can only be imagined, or even longed for, in a viewer’s mind. It is not a sight that one experiences on a regular day. The image is expected to contain all human beings, even the one who’s viewing it, but if one is viewing it, how is it an accurate image of representation? This image doesn’t wait for its symbols to be decoded entirely by its viewer, but instead relies on an abstract understanding of unity, simply through its aesthetic and visual symbols.” The visual artist has drawn from a graphic designer’s understanding of visual, digital data to create work that raises some uncomfortable questions of semiotics; specifically, the amount of value we place in our signs and symbols. Perhaps, there are times when we channel far too many aspirations or expectations upon them, inevitably forcing them to break.
While Jawed’s work with visual imagery is engrossing, a great deal of his oeuvre is typographic in nature as well. To reference an earlier assertion regarding his practice, his typographic work is a perfect segment to experience his unique blend of art and design. “Each font and its letterforms have a specific flavour or a vibe,” he explains, “and they each evoke a feeling in the way they are displayed and used. My process usually begins with trying to capture that feeling. I draw forms digitally, sometimes almost instinctively and other times with very specific intent. From there on, it’s usually a fight between how crazy I get with the aesthetic part of it while still keeping it legible and true to the mood. I'm particularly interested in creating forms that look less textual and more visual, as abstraction of the words they are trying to express. I like leaving the viewer in a space of understanding what's familiar and unfamiliar about letterforms…so much so that one becomes attuned to picking up on and recognising their feel immediately.
The graphic artist spent a large part of his childhood in Pune, India. His father moved around in India a lot, and so Jawed would see a great deal of the subcontinent in his youth. He would pursue an Undergraduate Degree at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and soon after, would find himself working at a design studio for a year and a half in New Delhi; freelancing for another year, and later on applying to, and being accepted by the Graphic Design MFA program at the Yale School of Art. He tells STIR, “In my work I’ve been looking at image consumption and circulation of specific images.” While Jawed often does this through the lens of seduction, this is not always to be taken in a literal sense: he continues, saying “sometimes this seduction takes a more literal conceptual route and other times, I’m more interested in presenting in more nuanced, complex narratives, by either obscuring the subject or rendering it hyper-visible. We’re making, absorbing and regurgitating images endlessly. By appropriating these images, I like creating new outcomes that shed light on certain aspects, particularly alternative and marginalised viewpoints and narratives that often get buried in the circulation.”
Jawed’s work is complex, layered and carried out with a great deal of meticulous skill. However, it also often has a certain devil-may-care charm to it, and very regularly refuses to confirm to creative norms. It will be tremendously exciting to follow Furqan Jawed and see what direction he decides to take his practice in. Until then, of course, we have his fascinating oeuvre to dig through.