- Helmi El-TouniIllustrator–Egypt
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In October 2014, the Graphic Design Major of the American University in Cairo (AUC) held an exhibition titled "El-Touni: A Design Retrospective," celebrating over fifty years of El-Touni's truly inspiring and visionary art. A major part of this exhibition was a vast array of his illustrations of children's books, whether authored by him or by others.
It is safe, and indeed only fair, to say that his role in the literature of young people in the region has served to instill a sense of identity and cultural pride whilst encouraging the exploration of other cultures and realities. Whether he pulls the viewer into his stories with his colorful visuals or with his words, often embellished with hand-crafted Arabic calligraphy, El-Touni's books and illustrations are always concerned with identity and the preservation of Egypt's heritage. In his iconic Ken Zaman series of coloring books, for instance, El-Touni encourages children and adults to get a hands-on experience with his artwork. His books also fought for Egypt's remembrance of its own past, its rituals, and its disappearing heritage.
Moreover, his corpus of children's stories and books developed for the Egyptian publishing house Dar El-Shorouk tackled a variety of issues and topics—including the environment in Hikayet Baladi, traditional folkloric stories in Agmal al-Hikayat al-Shabiyya, introducing children to Arabic musical instruments in Qatqouta Tughani Taqtouqa, and teaching little girls about accepting their own identity while embracing other cultures in Arrouset Hanan. El-Touni is thus not just a storyteller and illustrator of children's books, he is a cultural giant and an Egyptian icon of design that we hope will remain as a reference and a lighthouse of knowledge for future generations.
Ever since he was a university student, Helmi El-Touni has been illustrating books and magazines for children. His first work was illustrations in the government-owned children's magazine Sarnie. From the beginning, it was clear to the editor-in-chief that his was no ordinary talent. The authenticity of his style and the child-appeal of his drawings immediately signaled a life-long career in this field. His early work in this magazine provided him with the opportunity to create his own characters and to be in direct contact with his readers.
His first character, Hamada, was testimony to his success. El-Touni's work involving this wise, observant Egyptian boy who was often critical of the behavior of adults was drawn from the perspective of an eight-year-old. Its success brought hundreds of readers to the publishing house, demanding to meet Hamada!
Ever since that early success, El-Touni became intent on observing and maintaining Arabic and especially Egyptian authenticity in both style and techniques. Perhaps it is this authenticity and reluctance to emulate Western styles that has elevated him to his present position. His contribution to literature for young people in Egypt and the Arab-countries cannot be overstated. [End Page 50]