Tirgan is a summer festival in Toronto. It is a celebration of Iranian culture, food, dance, and music. I've had the pleasure of being Tirgan's creative director since its humble inception in 2008. Today it is a well-known name among Toronto's busy festival calendar.
2008: The beginnings
The first festival was held in 2008 by a small group of volunteer organizers, under a different name: "Once upon a time." I was asked to create the festival's logo and visual identity and help produce all the festival assets. I wanted the festival's brand to capture the fun, vibrant, and lively atmosphere that the event promised. For the logo, I used the elegant curves of Persian calligraphy to create a butterfly out of the festival's name. The inaugural poster was an explosion of colors, shapes, and motifs that helped people anticipate the type of activities on offer at the festival. Arabesque flourishes hinted at the festival's Persian roots.
2011: Tirgan gets its name
In 2011 the festival was permanently renamed to Tirgan. Tirgan's roots date back thousands of years to an ancient celebration, and we wanted a new identity to reflect and celebrate the enduring nature of the occasion. Because people were already familiar with the previous festival's branding, I wanted the new logo to feel like a logical evolution of the old one and contain the same essential elements; uplifting colours and Persian typography. It was ultimately the tree motif that emerged as our final brand.
The plan was for each festival to have a distinct visual theme. For the 2011 edition, I created a visual language inspired by Persian tapestry. With our event line-up changing frequently, this design allowed us to scale and adapt quickly.
2013: Bigger and better
By 2013 Tirgan was already in its third edition and was attracting crowds of well over 100,000. My theme for the 2013 edition of the festival was 'colliding worlds,' an affirmation of the dichotomy between the festivals' western physical setting and its eastern cultural content. With the festival itself growing, we had many more assets to produce; posters, event booths, print ads, festival programs, sponsorship guides, merchandising, signage. In addition to overseeing the production of all these assets, I also designed the UX and user interface for our iPhone app. We made gratuitous use of Sam Javanrouh's brilliant photos of Toronto, who graciously allowed us to use them.
2015: Tirgan turns 5
2015 was a special year because it was our 5th edition of the festival. By now Tirgan now had its own office and permanent staff, in addition to our passionate and ever-growing volunteers. It was also the first time I was working with the team remotely after having moved to San Francisco.
I was itching for a more illustrative style this time, and after exploring several directions I ended up with the 'halves' concept, showing cross-sections of elements that have similar significance in both Iranian and Canadian cultures.
In addition to creative direction for the festival, I also updated the design of our app to be compatible with the newer iOS version as well as our updated festival theme.
2017: a day at the festival
After the 2015 festival, and after so many years in charge of the festival's design, I wanted to hand the torch to someone else with fresh ideas. But old flames die hard, and over a cup of coffee in the summer of 2016, the festival organizers convinced me to keep the fire burning for another year.
Thankfully, the festival's 2017 artistic statement provided just the spark I needed. It drew parallels between multiculturalism in ancient Iran and modern day Canada. This gave me an idea for visually representing this concept in a way that built on the success of the 2015 creatives for which the festival received a good deal of positive feedback.
To realize the idea, I decided to work with the talented Alex Mostov, Seattle-based illustrator whose style I love.
It’s a hot summer day, and people young and old, from all walks of life, with families and friends in tow are heading towards Tirgan. They may or may not know the origin of the celebration, or the rich history of the culture it belongs to, but each person is looking forward to and excited about something. Over the course of a weekend, they’ll listen to new music, dance along with the performers, play with their kids, sample new food, and make new friends. Those who were attending an Iranian festival for the first time go home with beautiful memories of the new sights and sounds they witnessed. And our Iranian compatriots? They feel fulfilled and glad that they got to be part of a wonderful celebration of their ancestral culture, with a tinge of hopeful melancholy, wondering what it would feel like if this was held in their homeland.
In the foreground, the stone reliefs of Persepolis, ancient Iranian palace, bridge the past and the present and – I hope – spark a moment of reflection and contemplation; the ruins might be thousands of years old, and people's sense of fashion might have evolved somewhat, but the spirit and drive that motivated them to celebrate and enjoy life is still as new as ever.
Tirgan gets a little sister
Also in 2017, Tirgan started hosting Nowruzgan, a smaller festival that coincides with the Persian new year. For this, I wanted to create visuals that made it obvious it was a 'Tirgan' event, while making sure people don't confuse the two festivals. So I stuck with the same hand-drawn feel and illustrative style, but changed the primary color to green and dropped the Persepolis illustration in favour of a 7-seen spread; the traditional table that is set out for the Persian new year.
2019: more is merrier
Tirgan has always been a highly collaborative effort, bringing together dozens of passionate volunteers. This year, I wanted to use the festival’s poster as a platform for collaboration.
Rose and the nightingale
Gol o Bolbol, or the rose and the nightingale, is a painting genre that is an authentically Persian interpretation of diverse cultural influences spanning over 400 years from pre-Safavid Iran to late Qajar period. Originally inspired by Chinese paintings and later influenced by European aesthetics, the bird & flower motifs resonated with Iranians due to the symbolic significance of birds and flowers in Persian literature and poetry.
I was inspired by Gol o Bolbol, which is a perfect realisation of the potential that exists in the dialog between people and cultures. My goal was to create a series of modern Gol o Bolbol compositions through collaboration between artists of different backgrounds.
Armed with just a rough concept I called my talented friend, collaborator, and friend of Tirgan Sam Javanrouh. I told him I wanted to create a modern interpretation of the Gol o Bolbol using real-life photography and asked if he would be interested in shooting it. Magnanimous as he is, he agreed.
I really believed in this direction, but I still had to convince the Tirgan executives. As in previous years, I prepared a pitch deck. But unlike before, rather than providing multiple options I only presented a single concept.
Fortunately the Tirgan team was on board. The next step was to complete the creative team by finding a florist. Thanks to Tirgan’s connections we partnered with Hossein Mendozza, a talented local Toronto florist. With his famous project managemetn acumen, Tirgan’s own Nima Ahmadi scheduled the first shoot date and provided a studio space for Sam and Hossein. On the day, I was on hand remotely to provide feedback and answer questions. The team did an incredible job shooting multiple beautiful arrangements, sending me updates in real-time. There was one that stood out, and I knew immediately we had our hero poster.
And there you have it. A big thanks to everyone involved, and thank you for making it this far.