Amsterdam - July 25, 2007: The controversial El Hema exhibition hasn’t opened its doors yet—or finalized events—but spectators were already anxious to take a peek. The exhibition, which opens August 24 in the ground floor of the Post CS building, promises to be a contemporary take on Arabic culture, in particular script.
Local Ellen Laming and former Netherlands resident Petra Korink stopped by the exhibition room about a month too soon, but they were not turned away from viewing the brainstorming session on Wednesday evening. Both women said they read about the upcoming event in local media.
“It’s supposed to be an Islamic version of Hema,” Laming said.
Close, but not quite.
The Mediamatic staff, which has been diligently working to transform the exhibit room into an Arabic version of a Hema store since June, urges the exhibit is not about religion.
Huda Smitshuijzen Abifares, El Hema Coordinator, said that naturally people will find a Middle Eastern connection to the fonts whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or neither. Of course it can and has been used in religious contexts but, “there is nothing holy about the script,” Abifares said.
Instead the exhibit will focus on the pragmatic relation to the script and its use in everyday life, in things that are not necessarily holy, for instance, a shopping experience.
“Hema—adapted to another culture,” Korink said.
That’s more the idea.
The use of the El Hema name has caused a national stir, as the Hema organization threatened to take Mediamatic to court for using its name and logo without permission. Fortunately, Hema has recently decided to drop the accusations and instead help with the project.
“I’m glad they [Hema] didn’t say no, but it took a long time for them to understand it wasn’t against them,” Korink said.
Korink, who now lives in Berlin, said she was eager to see the El Hema exhibit to observe how a traditionally Dutch store will be adapted to another culture. When she moved to Germany, she said there was nothing like a Hema there. She once considered making a German version of Hema herself, she said.
Both women acknowledged Hema’s use of the “K.I.S.S.” formula (Keep it Simple Sweetheart) in everything from their store design, to their products.
Korink said she misses the famous sausages, the uncomplicated style and inexpensive Hema pricing.
“It’s good taste, but simple,” Laming said. “It fits in with the Dutch spirit.”
After viewing some of the upcoming products that will be available at the EL Hema exhibit, the women had suggestions of their own to incorporate Arabic characters and culture into more Hema-like products.
The ladies said they will return for the official opening, even if it means taking a trip back from Germany.