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Iris Alba, the hidden gem of Latin American Design

Thursday, June 27th 2024

by raxo

Iris Alba, a visionary Latina artist and designer, remains a pivotal yet often overlooked figure in Latin America’s design history. With a career spanning nearly two decades, her work as a designer and art director for Sudamericana, one of Latin America’s leading publishers, left an indelible mark on the region’s visual landscape.

Iris Alba remains a beacon of inspiration

"Iris Alba remains a beacon of inspiration"

Born in Buenos Aires in 1935, Alba’s creative journey began with a move to New York in 1957, where she immersed herself in the city’s vibrant design scene. Studying under the tutelage of modernist painter Stuart Davis and working at J. Walter Thompson agency, she honed her skills and embraced the influences of the burgeoning pop art movement. Despite a successful stint in New York, Alba’s homesickness led her back to Buenos Aires, where she joined Sudamericana and quickly rose to the position of art director, establishing an in-house graphic department.

Alba’s design ethos was groundbreaking, fusing elements of pop art, psychedelia, and postmodernism to create a distinct Latin American aesthetic. Her innovative use of a white background with colorful illustrations, incorporation of photography into book covers, and pioneering use of paste-up processes set her work apart in an era before digital design tools.

One of Alba’s notable achievements was her redesign of Sudamericana’s visual identity, which resonated with a younger audience in the 1960s and 70s. Her covers for works such as William Styron’s “Esta casa está en llamas” and Rosa Dror Alacid’s “Cartas a Enrique” showcased her ability to push boundaries and experiment with design.

Despite her significant contributions, Alba’s legacy was largely obscured, a fate attributed to both her gender in a male-dominated industry and the limited perspective of mainstream design history, which often overlooked Latin American contributions. Additionally, the tumultuous political climate in Argentina, marked by a military coup in 1976, disrupted Alba’s career and led to her withdrawal from the design scene.

In 1993, Alba passed away, leaving behind a legacy that is now being rediscovered and celebrated – as it should be. A forthcoming monograph from Flecha Books aims to shed light on her life and work, showcasing her remarkable talent and contributions to Latin American design and the overall design aesthetic of the region for said period of time while she was working full time as a designer. Through her innovative approach and groundbreaking designs, Iris Alba remains a beacon of inspiration for future generations of designers, ensuring that her impact on Latin American visual culture is recognized and remembered. So yes, go ahead and out Iris on your moodboard, it’s the right thing to do.