The case of Ghada Wali, a graphic designer accused of repeatedly stealing other people’s work, has once again brought the issue of intellectual theft to the forefront. The accusations against Wali, including the recent claims made by Russian artist Georgy Kurasov, have raised concerns about her ethics, refusal to admit her mistakes, and attempts to normalize this behavior.
Wali’s appearance on a TV interview with Amr Adeeb further exacerbated the PR disaster she had already created, as she evaded responsibility, turned the issue into a political matter, and condescended to others.
But before we analyze Wali’s interview and how she dealt with the situation, let us know more about who Ghada Wali is and her history of alleged plagiarism.
Who is Ghada Wali?
According to her website, which is no offline, Ghada Wali is a renowned graphic designer and TED Global Speaker. She is the youngest female speaker from the MENA region and believes in the power of graphic design to change the world. Wali has achieved numerous accolades, including being the first Arab designer to speak at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and having her Arabic typeface recognized as one of the top 100 graphic design pieces worldwide.
Her work has been featured in prestigious publications such as the World Economic Forum and Wired, and she has won awards in international design competitions. Wali has also been involved in various design-related initiatives and served as a judge and speaker at industry conferences. She has appeared on Forbes Europe’s List and OKAYAFRICA-100WOMEN list, representing the arts and immigrants category.
Wali holds degrees in design from the German University in Cairo and IED Istituto Europeo di Design in Florence. She has worked at renowned agencies and universities, and she recently ventured into directing with a highly viewed music video and campaigns for the Ministry of Environment and UNDP. Wali’s achievements include being recognized as one of the top 50 influential women in Egypt.
Her First Public Theft Allegation: The 2017 film Al-Aslyeen’s Poster
With the release of the film Al-Aslyeen, translated to The Originals, in 2017, social media went into a frenzy after discovering the film’s poster was not “original.”
Many compared the poster for the film to the Indian film Dhobi Ghat, which was produced in 2010.
At the time, Wali spoke with Youm7, about the claims, and stated that designing a movie poster is not an easy task as the designer’s role is to convey the essence of the film in an expressive image, especially for a film like “The Originals.”
Ghada Wali also revealed the behind-the-scenes process of immersing herself in the world of “The Originals” before embarking on designing the poster. She mentioned conducting extensive research on the global trends in poster design and how to develop them in Egypt to keep up with the world. This research was inspired by “The Originals” film, motivating her to explore numerous movie posters that gained significant popularity.
Avenue of Sphinxes‘ Logo Stolen from Her Students in 2021
In November 2021, Ghada Wali’s design was chosen as the logo for the grand celebration of The Avenue of Sphinxes. This brought Wali significant attention.
Evidently, the design was part of a visual identity project for the governorates of Egypt initiated by the German University, specifically to implement the visual identity in Luxor, as per the presidential mandate. The design was the collective result of six diligent girls, who later revealed that Wali only contributed to the group’s efforts for two weeks before leaving.
A few days after the celebration, Habiba Abdullah, a student at the German University in Cairo and one of the original creators of the design, posted on Facebook, in a now-deleted post,
“They are unjustly empowering one woman at the expense of the hard work and efforts of six… and many others who joined and supported us to bring this project to life, something that all Egyptians deserve to witness.”
The credit for the design should have been attributed to each of its creators: Habiba Abdullah, Dina Darwish, Yasmina Saleh, Nariman Amr, Norhan Gevara, and Sara El-Sayed. However, all recognition and prominence were solely given to Ghada Wali, who faced no consequences for her actions.
Girls’ College Metro Station and Accusations of the Russian Artist
After the initial success Wali experienced with the “original” Avenue of Sphinxes celebration design, she found herself in charge of another significant project in 2022. This time, her task was to create a design for the Girls’ College Metro Station, visible to all passersby and the world. The initial release of the designs was met with approval, further enhancing Wali’s reputation.
However, once again, the acclaim was short-lived, and this time, Wali faced the possibility of serious consequences. Russian artist Georgy Kurasov was enraged when he saw the designs, claiming that they were directly plagiarized from his original works without his consent.
“On the Cairo subway, my paintings were used without my permission, and my name wasn’t even mentioned!”Kurasov expressed his frustration on his Facebook page.
The revelation of the accusations left many shocked, and unfortunately, they turned out to be true. Kurasov’s original painting had depicted Greek culture and had no connection to Egyptian culture whatsoever. However, Wali had taken the design and altered the skin color of the characters, making them black to supposedly align with Egyptian people (which, in itself, raises concerns given the ongoing Afrocentrism controversy).
Safaa al-Qabbani, the head of the Syndicate of Fine Artists, stated on Facebook,
“Designer Ghada Wali is not a member of the Syndicate of Fine Artists. It is not permissible for anyone to use someone else’s work without obtaining their permission and acknowledging them as a participant in the project.”
The accusations were substantiated when The National Authority for Tunnels issued an apology and removed the paintings. To everyone’s surprise, the paintings turned out to be nothing more than stickers affixed to the walls. Despite the controversy, Wali remained silent, offering no direct statements or apologies, thereby reinforcing the validity of the accusations.
The 2018 7up Campaign Backlash
In May 2023, Ghada Wali faced yet another accusation from Georgy Kurasov, and this time, Pepsi found itself implicated as well. Wali had participated in Pepsi’s 2018 marketing campaign for 7up, where she was responsible for creating limited edition colorful packages inspired by Egyptian heritage.
In response, Kurasov has taken legal action against both Wali and Pepsi, seeking significant financial compensation and an official apology from the company for using his paintings without prior permission. Ahmed Hassan, the lawyer representing the Russian artist, stated that Kurasov “possesses all the necessary documents proving that the artworks featured in the advertisements are his.”
Breaking her silence, Wali posted a video on her social media platforms to address the accusations. She vehemently maintains that the designs are original and were created by her, sharing initial sketches from the brainstorming phase as evidence. Furthermore, Wali expressed her intention to counter-sue the Russian artist, claiming that his actions have tarnished her reputation.
Her Interview with Amr Adeeb, and Everything Wrong with it:
On May 20, 2023, Ghada Wali made an appearance on Amr Adeeb’s show “Al-Hekaya” in an attempt to defend herself against the accusations and assert the originality of her designs. However, her statements during the show only worsened her situation. Here’s why:
“We both stole from Picasso”:
Wali argued that the similarities between the works were merely based on the fact that they were both created in a Cubist style. Cubism was pioneered by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1907-08. Wali suggested that perhaps Kurasov was also inspired by Picasso.
However, Adeeb pointed out that creating artwork within a particular artistic movement is not the same as directly copying another artist’s work, and the similarities were apparent without requiring an expert’s opinion. Wali made no effort to apologize or address the main concern.
“I am a graphic designer, not an artist”:
When questioned about why none of her other works depicted the same style, Wali attempted to justify the alleged theft by claiming she was “inspired” by another artist’s work, suggesting it was not problematic. However, this explanation did not hold up under scrutiny.
“The Russian artist wants to enter the Egyptian market one way or another”:
In an attempt to shift blame onto Kurasov, Wali accused him of “stealing” from Egyptian culture by using it as inspiration for some of his works. She went as far as suggesting that Kurasov’s accusations and his previous works were all part of an attempt to enter the Egyptian market. Wali argued that using Egyptian culture without permission was “illegal.”
The Nail on the Coffin: Al-Aslyeen’s Fiasco:
Adeeb compared the poster of the 2010 Indian film “Dhobi Ghat” with Wali’s poster design for the 2017 film “Al-Aslyeen (The Originals).”
First, Wali said she never heard about this; then she implied the Indian film’s poster could have been stolen from hers, only to find out it had come out years before “Al-Aslyeen”.
She then switched to saying they are only similar as they are both done by the same “double-exposure technique” which is quite common.
As Adeeb subtly accused her of being a copycat, Wali denied ever hearing of the accusations regarding this poster, saying it was the first time she was seeing it.
Now hold on – do you remember the first theft accusation Wali face that we mentioned up there?,
Wali did know about the ordeal, and she already spoke with Youm7 about it. She also knew that the Bollywood film was released before Al-Aslyeen, yet still tried to flip the narrative to make it seem like she was the victim.
Let’s Talk about the PR Crisis she caused herself and how she kept digging herself a deeper hole!
In our assessment, Wali’s appearance on the show was a regrettable attempt to defend herself and counter the accusations, but it ultimately did more harm than good.
First and foremost, Wali consistently refused to take responsibility for any of her actions. Despite facing theft accusations for years, she seemed more interested in enjoying her place on Forbes’ list than admitting any wrongdoing – which for the record, anyone can pay to be listed on that list.
Throughout the interview, Wali made various attempts to divert the conversation by levying Afrocentric accusations against Kurasov, which were completely irrelevant.
Kurasov’s artwork depicting Egyptian heritage includes individuals of various ethnic backgrounds, showcasing the true diversity that has long existed within Egyptian society.
Claiming that the inclusion of dark-skinned individuals in artwork related to Egyptian heritage is inherently racist is unfounded. Furthermore, this stance overlooks the significance of Nubian culture, which is ironic considering Wali’s involvement in the Avenue of Sphinxes Luxor project.
Moreover, the Girls’ College Metro Station design solely featured dark-skinned women, whereas Kurasov’s work is more realistic and inclusive. It is worth noting that Afrocentrism is an African-American ideology, while Kurasov is Russian and has no connection to that movement.
When the “Afrocentric” claim failed to hold weight, Wali shifted to framing the accusations as a political ploy to tarnish Egypt’s international image.
Despite the numerous accusations and claims leveled against Ghada Wali in recent years, she has yet to face any significant consequences for her actions. In fact, during the interview, she even made the dismissive statement that everyone steals, downplaying the seriousness of the accusations against her.
The lack of accountability for Wali sets a dangerous precedent. It sends a message to other “artists” that they can plagiarize and infringe on intellectual property without facing repercussions, just as she has done. This failure to address the issues at hand will only lead to a proliferation of similar situations in the future.
The continuous accusations against Egyptian artists, with Wali as a prominent example, will undoubtedly have lasting impacts on our international image. It may hinder the opportunities for genuine artists to participate in international events and exhibitions, as their credibility may be questioned due to the actions of a few.
So far, the similarities between Wali’s work and the work of others cannot be unseen, as well as her history of intellectual theft accusations. We are waiting to see the results of the lawsuit by Kurasov.