ARAB VS PERSIAN: COLOR
Because of the United States’ dealings in Southwestern Asia throughout history,
it has become commonplace for many Americans to simply consider Iranians as Arabs.
- This could not be more untrue.
- The people of Iran have developed a language, culture and identity wholly separate from the Arabs.
- A particularly interesting difference between the 2 cultures is the use of color and color theory.
- The predominant colors associated with the Arab world are those of Arab Liberation and Nationalism.
- The bold red, white, black, and green that make up many of the flags of North African and Western Asian nations
- has become a common sight to many in the US
- due to the overwhelming media coverage of these nations in regard to their relation to the US
- Each of the 4 colors is believed to represent a certain Arab dynasty or era
Associated with the Khawarij (7th Century CE),the first Islamic group to emerge after the assassination of Caliph Uthman, forming the first republican party in the early days of Islam. Their symbol was the red flag.
Color of the Umayyad Dynasty, Damascus (661-750). They used white as a symbolic reminder of the Prophet’s first battle at Badr. It was also used to distinguish themselves from the Abbasids, the other great clan of Sunni Islam, by using white, rather than black, as their color of mourning.
Color of the Abbasid Dynasty, Baghdad (750-1258). The Abbasid Caliphs were the 2 of the great Sunni dynasties. This dynasty overthrew the Umayyad dynasty in 750 CE. Black is also considered to be the color of the Prophet Mohammed’s flag. It is also interesting to note that in pre-Islamic times, black was considered to be the color of revenge.
Color of the Fatimid Dynasty, North Africa (909-1171). This tribe ruled all of North Africa and carried a green flag as their symbol of support of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin.
In modern times, the color green has become the color of Islam throughout the world. The North African country of Libya uses a completely solid green banner as their national flag today.
The amount of nations using these 4 colors to identify themselves</b>
- from other nations, Arab or otherwise,
- yet maintain a loyalty to the Arab Liberation and Nationalist ideal is staggering:
- Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, Egypt, and Yemen
- all use these colors to identify themselves as being strong with the Arab cause (fig. 1)
- Even once the cause has been solidified behind the banner,
- the color scheme is a collection of different colors all trying to symbolize the same thing: Unity.
However, from a graphic design standpoint, each country uses a different set of colors:
- Kuwait uses a lighter shade of green than Jordan,
- which uses a darker shade of red than Iraq.
- While in use on a flag, this is a welcomed idea to differentiate one country from the next,
- yet a non-standard set of colors can cause confusion when trying to design for
Within the country, the problem would not show itself
- as the color scheme would remain a constant to that of the national colors,
- however if this were exported to another market (or country), it would instantly be recognized
- as being of that specific country and not a message of Arab unity
The irony of this is that the recognized colors Arab Liberation and Nationalism
- were ideas designed during the First World War &
- marketed to Arab nations & tribes by a British politician
- named Sir Mark Sykes.
The political implications of a set of “liberation colors” designed & drawn up by
- not only a non-member of that society, but
- also someone completely distanced from the nuances of the culture,
- cause the legitimacy of the colors to be in question every time they are viewed.
Persian & Iranian identity has always been a protected element of life
- within Iran’s borders & abroad
- for thousands of years.
- Even though the West may consider Iran to be of Arab culture due to its proximity of Arab nations,
- the relationship ends there
In his “Diacritical Principle” Ferdinand de Saussure
- known as the ‘father’ of 20th Century linguistics
- states that the identity of signifiers (in this case, Iranian culture) based on
- is determined by their differences from other signifiers (Arab culture) based on color
It is this color difference that makes Iranians very proud
- to be who they are &
- express themselves in ways that are not associated with another group.
- While Iranian artists and designers use both a red and green as a national signifier,
- the cultural usage and meaning is much more significant than a color scheme
- designed and implemented on a wide scale by an outside source.
- Iran calls upon its ancient history to give a deeper meaning than the palette of Arab Nationalism
Persian Red and Persian Green adorn the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- While the similarities of a “green” and “red” may initially be conceived as one in the same,
- there is a specific color code for each in Maerz and Paul’s “A Dictionary of Color”.
- While the two colors were not joined together on one flag until the Pahlavi dynasty came into power in 1925 (fig. 2),
- the colors’ usage in every day life has been in existence for thousands of years.
Persian Red, and its digital color equivalent mixture of C:14 M:95 Y:89 K:4 gets its name from being of the specific region and identifier of Persia. It is in fact a deep reddish orange originally created from pigments found along the coast of the Persian Gulf.
Its distinctive rich color is from a silicate in the coastal clay containing iron, aluminum oxide and magnesium oxide. First mentioned in the English language in 1897, the color began to get rave reviews in the States toward the beginning of the 20th Century. One example of its beauty is exalted in an article in the "Bangor Daily Whig and Courier" (Bangor, ME) on
women’s fashion for the upcoming New Year:
“Kinderly women are adopting petunia and cedar’ browns, or the new Persian Red like the damask rose. It is far prettier than even Italian red; It suits the complexion”.
Already attention was being drawn to the compliments the color made with regards to fashion and design. The aesthetics of the color benefiting human interaction and complexion should also be noted, it is not everyday that an Italian fashion accessory is outdone by a rookie on the scene.
The color is so important to the cultural make up that is Iranian culture that before the Islamic revolution, Iran had its very own arm of the International Red Cross and internationally recognized protection symbol: the Red Lion with Sun (fig. 3). There are disputes of when the symbol was presented to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva. Some claim it was 1922, others say 1864. Iran wished to have its own symbol to counter the fact that the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols were used by its two greatest rivals: Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The symbol, with its specific color on a white background was accepted into the international order in 1923. It was used inside of Iran
until 1980, when its association with the Shah caused it to be replaced by the Red Crescent, in line with other Muslim countries. Iran still lays claim to the symbol, and reserves the right at any time to use it, as it is still a recognized symbol of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
In contemporary culture, the red is a vivid statement against the blues, greens, and earth tones traditionally used by designers. Designers like Hajar Salimi, Siamak Filizadeh, Farhad Fouzoni, and Amirali Ghasemi use Persian Red’s intrepid presence to give a bold statement about the work and meaning of the projects they create. It feels at home with the work because of its deep connection to the Persian way of life. It is not too daring of a
color, as it is perfectly coupled with the sensual tenacity of its compliments.
It seems to represent a fire that is in the belly of every Iranian, representing the love of life and culture that all cherish. It is this color that makes up the Coat of Arms of Iran centered on the current flag (figs. 4 & 5); 4 crescents, in a stylized Arabic script reading “Allah,” represents the country. It not only symbolizes the religious beliefs of the country, but commemorates those that have passed on defending them. It is an ancient
belief in Iran, dating back thousands of years; that if a young soldier dies patriotically in defense of his country, a red tulip will grow on his grave.
This coat of arms is also designed specifically to represent that. This symbol was designed by Hamid Nadimi and approved by the Ayatollah Khomeini to be adopted and implemented as the National Coat of Arms in 1980.
It is also stated in the “Dictionary of Color” that Persian Red is also known as Artificial Vermilion; this destroys its power. The color has no representation with such a label. The life, the culture, the spirit of every work that contains this color is immediately diminished. It is comparable to a group coming along and suggesting Leonardo da Vinci’s
“The Last Supper” as simply “Eating with Jesus.” Every color contains a spirit; Persian Red is the match that ignites the ferocity of the rest of the Iranian palette.
Like Persian Red, Persian Green (C:80 M:10 Y:52 K:0 ) is also a national signifier.
It crowns the Iranian flag, acting as a cool and calming compliment to its fiery national ally. While the green is a cooler feel, it is still a cultural institution. Originally derived of malachite, it resembles the tone and hue of aged copper. The green has been used in artworks ranging from pottery, rugs, to poster designs of today. Siamak Filizadeh and Farzad Adibi, two contemporary designers living in Tehran use the color reminiscent of its ancient roots, whereas Farhad Fouzoni brings it into the digital age with its CMYK likeness in some of his works.
While the green does not have as much of a commanding presence as its compliment, it actually does just that; it compliments it. The bold red would not seem so bold without its counterpart nearby. It would seem obtrusive and invasive. However, with the green in the piece, the work is a visual symphony that can capture the attention of even the most tired eyes.
Without the green the red is beautiful, but with the green, it sings. And the same can be said for Persian Green as well.
Both colors are gorgeous on their own, together they are breathtaking. However, intrinsic beauty only goes so far. While Persian Red and Persian Green may take one’s breath away, Persian Blue in all of its forms will steal ones breath, one’s heart, and force one to reconsider the use of one’s color palette.
It is difficult to describe the beauty of Persian Blue. It has 3 main hues that are used in a variety of works throughout Iran. The names are:
- Original Persian Blue (C:92 M:83 Y:0 K:0),
- Medium Persian Blue (C:93 M:59 Y:9 K:1), and
- Persian Indigo (C:96 M:100 Y:16 K:11).
While the names are nothing spectacular, the dynamic impact of these blues on any piece is instantly noted.
A stunning example of the use of this color is displayed on the dome of the Shah Mosque (later renamed the Imam Mosque after the Revolution). Architecture throughout Iran is adorned with tiles of this color, along with pottery and other identifiably Iranian elements. In a contemporary business setting Iran Air, the official airline of the Islamic Republic, uses all three shades as their identity color. This seems only fitting as all of the photographs I have seen of Iran show the sky to be these beautiful hues.
This color is unique to this area. The hues of Persian Blue are direct representations of the mineral Lapis Lazuli, native to Iran and Afghanistan. The color azure is named after this striking mineral. The striking color was instantly recognized by ancient civilizations
who used azure as a monatery unit. The color constituted great wealth and prosperity all over the world due to its regional rarity. In any medium, applied to any media, Persian Blue is more arresting than the two previous colors. It speaks softly, but can be heard for great distances. In all forms it speaks of a culture that is unique unto itself. It represents the people, the lifestyle, and the country of Iran; far more than the national colors could.
It is warm and inviting, and never cold; no matter the value chosen. It compliments well with either of the green or red, and is never overtaken by its counterpart at any time. At the same time, it is the country that represents this color.
Taken from the very spot of planet earth it represents, azure (Persian Blue) seems to hold an almost mystical power. Knowing that a color like that exists, but in a specific part of the world, should only whet one’s appetite to learn more about the possibility of color
combinations and applications.
The image of water, loosely related to the fact that Iran is situated on the Persian Gulf comes to mind. Obviously water is seen as blue, but from images of Iran, the water and the sky are truly these magnificent colors. It is as if nature itself realizes the wonderful beauty it created and wishes to show its own form of design to humans; showing us how to truly use it at every turn.
Left: A contemporary example of Iran recognizing Persian Blue’s representation of the country in Iran Air’s logo. [Image: Iran Air, Tehran]
Saed Meshki, a designer whose works I truly admire and connect with my own design philosophy and aesthetic, as well as Reza Abedini, a designer who was mentioned for his wonderful works in American design publication “Print,” in 2004 are just two of the designers that know the proper use of this color. While it is stunning, less is more. The
slight tonality of the blue is what gives it its power. The page does not need to be awash in the hue to make a point, a simple accent here, a line there; that makes all the difference. Content is perceived through meaning of the work by the viewer, though the change may be slight, the impact is dramatic.
SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE BACHELOR
OF FINE ARTS IN GRAPHIC DESIGN PROGRAM AT THE ART INSTITUTE OF SEATTLE