Arabic - Dutch retail heaven

24 Aug 2007
6 Jan 2008

What would an Arabic Hema look like? Halal sausage? Arabic chocolate letters? Affordable high quality headscarves? 3 Arabic scarfs (kaffia) for the price of 2? Tunics or djellabas? School notebooks with lining for Arabic, which reads from right to left? Ali Baba and the 40 shoplifters? Camel milk? Arabic poetry on duvet covers? Jibril and Jamilah children's champagne? North African wine? El Hema gave all the answers to these questions.


El Hema logos - El Hema logos (Left: new logo, designed by Wael Morcos. Right: old logo, designed by Tarek Atrissi in collaboration with Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares. Arabic font used as basis for the logo is TheMix Arabic, designed by Lucas de Groot and Mouneer Al-Shaarani).


During the El Hema exhibition Mediamatic's attention was pointed at Arabic-Dutch art, design and culture.

The department store franchise Hema is as Dutch as you can get. There are countries that find their identity in churches, gardens or bathing houses. The Dutch identify themselves with the Hema; the living monument of the best value for your money, with typical eccentric Hema colours, bikes, cheese, rookworsten and Jip and Janneke children champagne.

The Hema is the alif and baa (abc) of cultural integration.

We love the Hema

And that is exactly why the Arabic Hema directly crossed our minds: it is the image of the future Arabic Netherlands.

El HEMA was an exhibition with fun, surprising, touching and sometimes provoking designs. Moreover everyone could have a go at El HEMA's special offer of food products. Halal, of course.

During the Ramadan, El HEMA was open after dusk so that the religious visitors could still enjoy a nice sausage.

El HEMA belongs to everyone and will never be finished. That is why already on August 24th, the El HEMA Design Contest began. Everyone could submit their ideas for El HEMA products on the website. Each week we chose the best submission, which was immediately produced and included in the exhibition. On the 3rd of November the festive award ceremony took place, and the winner of the El HEMA Design Competition was announced. All submitted ideas remained property of the submitter.

More information about El HEMA in the press can be found on radio and television.

We celebrated the opening of El HEMA with the symposium Khatt, Kufi & Kaffia on contemporary Arabic visual culture. At the symposium 5 new Arabic fonts were presented. The fonts are a result of a special collaboration of the Dutch and Arabic typographers which was organized by the Khatt Foundation. That is also when the book Typographical Matchmaking came out. In that book, Huda Abifares described the intercultural collaboration that led to the new letters.

Hema and El HEMA, what happened before

El HEMA does not belong to the Dutch Hema B.V. nor any other store. El Hema is a non-commercial project by Mediamatic Foundation in Amsterdam.

After initial threats from the Hema (read the press releases from July 20th and 23rd 2007) the Hema and Mediamatic agreed on July 27th that El HEMA can continue as planned. The Hema will be part of the jury for the El HEMA Design Competition (see the press release from July 27th 2007).