Amsterdam – August 16, 2007: A rouse of applause filled Mediamatic’s exhibition hall as El Hema graphic designers presented the latest and final labors of the past five weeks during the last Thursday meeting. If the reaction is any prediction of how the El Hema exhibition will be received on its August 24 opening—then the exhibit will undoubtedly be reputed as a highly professional and innovative success.
A mélange of familiar and many more new faces attentively giggled with astonishment as graphic design interns Wael Morcos and Khajag Apelian presented iconic Hema-esque labels, signs and products with an Arab touch.
“They’re very clean and straight to the point in the sprit of Hema,” Morcos said of the designs.
With such an accomplished effort, it’s easy to forget the purpose of Arabizing a Dutch Hema store is not simply to see what an Arab Hema will look like, but also to reflect the Typographic Matchmaking book launch by the Khatt Foundation. The book, to be released on the same day as the exhibit opening, will reveal five new Arabic fonts, which were created by a collaboration of five Dutch graphic designers and five Arab designers.
New endeavors this week included the completion of the packaging for the hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) and Arab chocolate letters—a favorite of the evening.
“They’re really Dutch because you get three letters for the price of one,” public relations agent Michel Langendijk teased, referring to the fact that many Arab letters have the same shape, but change depending on the placement of dots (and the referring to the Dutch stereotype of being thrifty).
Also new this week were underwear with erotic Arab poetry prints, an Arabic version of the “I Amsterdam” t-shirts, stamp workshops and fashion shows.
After updates, 16-year-old Kaoutar Laakioui-Mazouz presented her take on the Dutch youth and how they experience Arab culture. Laakioui-Mazouz, who has Moroccan roots, is a regular commentator on FUNX 96.1 FM, a Netherlands radio station that airs Oriental music and cultural talk shows for youths.
“The interest is growing. I see they [the Dutch youth] as very interested in our culture and in traveling to Arab countries.” Laakioui-Mazouz elaborated by saying that the Dutch experience the culture through food and music. “They always ask me about the songs they hear on the radio, who the artist is or what the songs mean.”
Projects like El Hema and FUNX radio, she said, are greatly needed in the Netherlands because it brings Dutch and Arab cultures together and “gets them thinking.”
“Arabs are mostly [portrayed] negatively in the news worldwide. In the Netherlands it’s not necessarily racism, but an irritation towards Arabs.” The youth, who she believes are more open to other cultures than adults, can help adults become more open and understanding. “After all the youth are the future.”
For Fashion’s Sake
Similarly, Farida Nouna and Thomas van Gelder have coupled their cultures and fashion senses to bring you Morecult, their latest fashion line which combines Arabic calligraphy and urban Dutch style.
“One day we were talking about all the negativity towards Arabs. We thought, why not put it on a shirt?” Nouna said. “We wanted to show that if you combine two cultures you can make beautiful things,” van Gelder added. A selection of their t-shirts and hoodies will be available at the El Hema exhibit for a 50 percent off discount.
If you want to learn more about Arab calligraphy, attend graphic designer Pascal Zoghbi’s 2-day workshop at the exhibit opening. At the weekly meeting he presented a condensed history of Arabic script and examples of what workshop-goers can expect to create.
Design it yourself
After learning how to write and make patters in Arabic and after a bit of inspiration from the exhibit, you can attempt to make your design into an actual product.
Organizers once again announced the benefits of the fabrication laboratory that will be available on the opening of the exhibit and every Mediamatic exhibit thereafter. The machine includes a scanner, 3-D plotter and laser cutter used for making and cutting designs. For example, the fablab was used to make the molds for the Arab chocolate letters.
Innovation Advisor Dirk van Vreeswijk said Mediamatic’s fablab will be the first in the Netherlands and will be accessible to the public at a low cost. “The idea is to have tools not normally available to normal people,” Mediamatic Director Willem Velthoven said.
Van Vreeswijk is part of a world-wide movement, in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, to allow the public access to these machines by bringing them to organizations like Mediamatic or public libraries. To keep access-costs as low as possible, van Vreeswijk said access to the fablab will be free, but the user maybe responsible for materials or paying for instructional assistance.
The designs created in the fablab can then be submitted into the El Hema Design contest. The winner will receive a four week language course in Damascus. For more information click here www.mediamatic.net/artefact-18751-en.html .