“It’s quite rare to have an informal setting where one can sit with people, share research or work in progress—even share a meal together,” said independent curator Nat Muller who attended the 6th weekly Thursday meeting for the first time.
The exhibit, set to open August 24, will be an inventive way to display five new Arabic fonts by utilizing them in products likely to be found in an Arabic version of a pseudo-Hema store. Tarek Atrissi, an art director for the El HEMA exhibition and one of 10 new font designers, said everyone working on the project has their own specific task. Thursday meetings are a forum for communicating the progress on logo designs, products, clothing, architectural advancements and even the legal status of the exhibit, he said.
“It’s a way to show how things are coming along, as well as inspire those interested in Arab art to come along and show what they have and get ideas on merging both worlds,” Atrissi said.
Because the aim of the project was not entirely clear in the beginning when the brainstorming for the project began six weeks ago, Atrissi said the Amsterdam community was invited to attend the Thursday meetings in order to collect and exchange ideas between the designers and those interested in Arabic culture.
Mediamatic invited Muller to the meeting because of her experience with media and art in the Middle East. Her screening of three short films by Middle Eastern directors towards the end of the evening was a favorite of the night.
Muller said she chose the films because they each portray the danger of stereotypes, for example, by taking stereotypes to an extreme as in the case of “Planet of the Arabs.” She cautions that organizers of El Hema should be careful not to fall into the very stereotypes they are trying to break.
“I’m very curious to see how it will all turn out,” Muller said. “[El HEMA] holds integrity and potential, but if it’s not done smartly it can fall into Orientalism.”
The five graphic design interns from Lebanon and Dubai working on El HEMA also introduced the design concepts behind the five new fonts. The designers further explained that most of the new fonts could be used for long texts, such as magazines, as well as large displays.
“It’s influenced by past fonts but in a very modern way,” intern Raya Tueny said of the new Fresco font.
After legal status and merchandise updates, Etty Elbaz-Griffioen an Arab-Jew born in Jerusalem who now lives in the Netherlands, gave an intimate presentation of her henna tattoo art form, which complemented the font theme of the evening.
Egyptian writer Raouf Mokssad Basta who now lives in Amsterdam, attended the meeting hoping to offer his literature background to the project, but said he was a bit confused about what organizers are trying to do with the project, he said. “I’m interested in the idea.”
Both Muller and Basta said they enjoyed the Thursday meetings and would continue to attend and possibly be more involved in the final exhibit.
“I think the Mediamatic people who direct the meetings are very open for ideas and want to listen to Arabs about the project,” Basta said.