conference program

Khatt Kufi Kaffiya, the printable symposium program

Lectures are described in detail with timings and links to the speakers' biographies.

The symposium program has been evolving and includes topics of every aspect of contemporary Arabic visual culture and identity, going beyond the stereotypes of what is associated with Arabic culture in the West. The lectures address topics of cross-cultural collaborations, fashion, film, media, dance, political posters, books, printing, typography and technology.

8:30—10:00 Registration & Coffee 10:00 Opening Welcome

Hans van Velzen (Director of the OBA)

10:10 Cultural Survival Kits and Other Practical Ideas

Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès (Khatt Foundation, Dubai-Amsterdam)
Cultural survival kits… it would be real nice if we had ready-made ones to give out at the door with simple instruction manuals. Fortunately such things do not exist. Maybe survival manuals are not quite the solution but rather asking the right questions and coming up possible good answers is. || Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès will introduce the Khatt Foundation's strategies for nurturing the development of contemporary visual culture in the Arab World and the Middle East.

10:30 Google in Arabia: Introducing the Khatt Network for Arabic typography

Willem Velthoven (Khatt Foundation / Mediamatic, Amsterdam)
Movable type was the new media of the 15th century. In Europe many in power felt threatened by the implications of it, and they were right, they could not stop it. They just tried to censor content. The Ottomans could stop printing and thus blocked media innovation in the Levant and beyond for centuries. || Willem Velthoven will be presenting and discussing the process and challenges of building the online community, the Khatt Network for Arabic Typography.

10:50 Visiting Shiba, the National Museum of Yemen

Jelle van der Toorn Vrijthoff (President of AGI, Alliance Graphique Internationale)
The National Museum of Yemen in the capital city of Sana’a was neglected when I arrived in 1998. The buildings needed repairs all over, windows were broken and the exhibits were covered in dust. The text panels and most pictures were full of graffiti. The depot was chock full and in chaos. A proper database was non-existent. The personnel on site was not prepared for their jobs and underpaid. The director didn’t have the funds to organize things properly. Years before in the early nineties the Dutch embassy in Sana’a had already allocated a generous amount of money to the museum. At that time the Tropen Institute in Amsterdam was selected to carry out the project of actually setting up the museum. || In 1998, and one revolution further, a next phase of the project was initiated by the Dutch Foreign Office. My company Total Design was selected to execute this second phase. A complete program of building renovation, exhibition design and personnel training was set up. Close collaboration with local expertise was organized and a large number of Yemeni people were trained on the job. Over a period of four years I learned to adjust my opinion about the Arabian peninsula and the significance of the Arabian world. I realize more than ever that I was in a country with a history that goes further back then my own. That we may be different but certainly not better off than the people that live there. My talk will be about the project of the National Museum of Yemen in Sana’a.

11:10—11:20 break 11:20 Dangerous Lingerie and Other Mid East Street Stories that Spook the West

Malu Halasa (Journalist & Editor on Middle East Culture & Politics, London)
The Arab street – its vibrancy, innovativeness, traditions of design and contemporary expression – has been obscured by geopolitical issues. Any attempt to deviate from the established line that the region is a place of war, religious fundamentalism or terrorism becomes virtually impossible particularly within the context of mainstream Western commercial publishing. || My recently co-edited books, The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie, with Rana Salam, Transit Tehran – Young Iran and Its Inspirations, with Maziar Bahari, and Kaveh Golestan – Recording the Truth in Iran, with Hengameh Golestan, provide ample examples of the challenges facing books that show a different side of the Middle East. || All of them feature a hefty mix of visuals and text. The book is explored as a curatorial space, one that not only shows the latest work of artists and photojournalists but also includes, in Transit Tehran, original memoir, reportage, fiction and neighbourhood profiles. A book like this breaks all sorts of taboos. The first one is marketing, where does a hybrid book that about a foreign place go – in travel, anthologies? If a book isn’t going to sell 10,000 copies Thames and Hudson won’t publish it. || However a more insidious problem exists. Books on the Arab and Iranian street, showcasing authenticity, are almost impossible to get published. Take as an example Syria’s racy lingerie culture. Manufactured by conservative religious Sunni families for a conservative religious clientele, it goes against the widespread Western belief that because of the veil or hijab, Islam is puritanical and sexless. After months of discussion, its current publisher narrowed the focus of the book and rejected photographs of the first Muslim woman modelling the country’s cotton lingerie – used as advertising images in lingerie stores all over Syria – because editors there feared a backlash. Wishful thinking or stupidity?

11:40 The Clash of Motion Picture, a Concise Look Back

Khaled Ramadan (Chamber for Interventional Media & University of Copenhagen)
Talk and short video screening by Khaled D. Ramadan || Planet of the Arabs by video maker Jacki Salloum.
Hollywood's relentless stereotyping of the Arabs. An example of this can be found in the book Reel Bad Arabs by Dr. Jack Shaheen. The book studies the depiction of Arab and Muslim characters in American films in the period from 1896 till 2000. Out of 1.000 films with Arab and Muslim characters, only 12 of the depictions were positive, while the remaining 900 or so were negative. The Arab film industry did not make similar negative depictions of Westerners, however, since the emergence of the Arab film industry in the 1930s, 17 films have given rise to diplomatic controversies with the Western world. || Professor of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University, and former CBS News consultant on Middle East affairs, Dr. Jack G. Shaheen, has argued that if Arabs want to change the general Western view of the Arab world and polish their image, they have to go through the two centers of powers: The one in Washington and the one in Hollywood. In other words, they have to make use of both entertainment and politics, because they go hand-in-hand. He also called on Arab filmmakers to produce films that could help conveying the clear and true image of the Arab world to the West, especially to the United States. (3) || The first video maker to answer Dr. Shaheen's call directly was Jacqueline Salloum in her video Planet of the Arabs. She was one of the first video makers to make the American film industry look bad. Planet of the Arabs takes a critical look at Hollywood's relentless dehumanization of Arabs, inspired by the book Reel Bad Arabs by Dr. Shaheen. In an outstanding audiovisual style, Salloum presents the other face of representation. She unveils the American/Arab claim about friendship and investigates what that friendship is all about. The 9 minutes video consists of readymade footage from over 30 films showing how Arab and Muslim characters are depicted in the American film industry. Intensive film flashes with Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito, Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger show how they are all mocking and conquering the Arab individuality and identity.

12:00 On Activism, Design and Politics in the Arab World: the Case of Visual Culture in Beirut

Zeina Maasri (American University of Beirut)
Politics, in the form of contemporary cultural resistance projects and in the history of Arab political posters, will be the subject of the presentation. I will start by briefly showing some contemporary projects I have been involved with. While each holds its own particular approach to art, design and politics, the projects serve as platforms for dialogue and exchange that attempt to build bridges between disparate localities, within and outside the Arab world. They offer a space for critical reflections on current socio-political issues of concern in the Arab region, as well as presenting alternative representations of the region that counter the hostile images of ‘terror’ that have dominated mainstream media. || The presentation will move to focus on a research project I am currently working on that addresses the political posters of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990). The project examines the deployment of political discourse through visual form, significant in the critical times of armed conflict. Lebanon’s civil war presents a complex case where regional and local conflicts of confessional, cultural and economic nature have characterized the different ideological frameworks and distinguished the numerous warring factions. That in turn, has resulted in the production of a complex and rich visual vocabulary, in terms of its diverse iconography, multiple signification and distinct aesthetic practices.

12:20—13:10 Lunch Break 13:10 Marhaba, in Search for a Hybrid Visual Language

Jacques Koeweiden & Eddy Wegman (Koeweiden Postma, Amsterdam)
The Dutch government stimulates contact between groups of different backgrounds by establishing a House for Cultural Dialogue in the four main cities of the Netherlands. These ‘houses’ facilitate cultural exchange through exhibitions, performances, literary meetings, film screenings et cetera. The house in Amsterdam concentrates on Islamic culture and is called Marhaba, meaning ‘welcome’. || Asked to design a visual identity for Marhaba, Koeweiden Postma started a search for new kind of hybrid visual language, combining Islamic decorative elements with western type in modern, nowadays design. The colourful result gives target-groups a feeling of pride and self-esteem. || The same approach was used in design for the Ramadan Festival. This festival takes the yearly Muslim feast as an opportunity to bring native Dutch people and people of different ethnic backgrounds and religions together. In the reports of the festival the blend of Islamic decorative imagery and western style typography and design was explored further. Chapters in the reports are divided by Latin numbers constructed in Islamic style with a special algorithmic programme. || The work for both Marhaba and Ramadan Festival show how different worlds can go together beautifully in design.

13:30 Unfamiliar Territories, Arabic Type and Modern Dance

Peter Bilak (Typotheque, Den Haag)
Peter Bilak will speak about methodologies of approaching unfamiliar areas of work. Similarities and differences of dance and type design will be discussed. Dance performances exist only in it's original, raw form, and cannot be reproduced. Typography, on the other hand, needs to be reproduced in order to be defined as typography.

13:50 From Amulet to Art Nouveau, a Thousand Years of Arab-European Exchange in Printing and Book Design

Dr. Geoffrey Roper (Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University, London)
The history of printing in the Arab world and Europe is the story of a 500-year exchange of technology, imagery and design. The Arabs adopted printing long before Gutenberg, but did not use it for book production; the technique, nevertheless, may possibly have influenced the later development of printing and book production in Europe. The first books containing Arabic script were printed in Europe, and were part of the Renaissance adoption of Arab/Muslim symbolism and imagery, from as early as the incunable period (15th century). During the next three centuries many European printed books continued to convey such "exotic" characters, decoration and iconography from the Ottoman domains and beyond. These sometimed purveyed mystification, intended to create or reinforce a sense of secret and unassailable erudition on the part of their purveyors; but, the development of Arabic typography in Europe also served to provide textual knowledge of the Arab/Muslim "Other ". While this development was hampered by European lack of knowledge and appreciation of the Arabic scribal and calligraphic tradition, it did establish the technical basis of Arabic typography, which later laid the foundation for print culture in the Arab world itself. || Meanwhile, the Ottomans themselves discovered printed books. The first ones in Arabic and Turkish which they encountered came from Europe, and they brought new features of book design and iconography from an alien world. Then in the 18th century books began to be printed in the Ottoman empire, which themselves incorporated more subtly innovative elements. By the mid-19th century a revolution had taken place in the production and distribution of texts, decoration and images which both reinvigorated the Ottoman and Arab sense of Muslim self-identity and at the same time confronted them with a Europe-derived modernity which gradually transformed both their use of texts and their graphic universe. || This paper will trace and illustrate some of the currents and counter-currents in this exchange of printed script, images and symbols between Europeans and Arabs.

14:10—14:20 break 14:20 Interface, Expressive Western and Arabic Calligraphy in Dialogue

Brody Neuenschwander (Artist/Calligrapher, Brugges)
For nearly twenty years, Brody Neuenschwander has worked with the British film maker Peter Greenaway to produce calligraphy for films, installations and operas such as Prospero's Books, The Pillow Book, One Hundred Objects to Represent the World, Writing to Vermeer and Writing on Water. These projects have stretched the boundaries of western calligraphy, transforming it into a visual language that has many parallels with Arabic and Chinese calligraphy. || At the same time, Neuenschwander has produced canvases, collages and sculptures that explore text/image relationships. Recent work includes the video installation "Skin" and a multi-cultural calligraphic happening, both created for the Memling Museum in the city of Bruges, Belgium. || In all his work, Neuenschwander shows an interest in the powerful graphic forms of Arabic calligraphy and the expressive energy of the line as revealed in Chinese calligraphy. These two qualities, usually absent in western calligraphy, are precisely what give calligraphy its relevance as an art form and training ground for typographic design.

14:40 The Enchanted Canary*, Contemporary Arabic Children's Books

Nadine Touma (Dar Onboz publishers, Beirut)
'If I do not mistake, you come from far. May I ask where you are going?'
'I will tell you,' answered Désiré, 'though most likely you will laugh at me. I dreamed that in the land of the sun there was a wood full of orange trees, and that in one of the oranges I should find a beautiful princess who is to be my wife. It is she I am seeking.'
'Why should I laugh?' asked the old man. 'Madness in youth is true wisdom. Go, young man, follow your dream, and if you do not find the happiness that you seek, at any rate you will have had the happiness of seeking it.'
This is one of the Folktales my Sitti, grandmother, used to tell us.
Years later I find out it is from Holland. Some say this sunny place he went to is in our part of the world, in one of our orange groves.
And here I am years later I visit Holland for the first time as a teller of tales and as the old man said I am following my dream…
The story ends by saying:
Since that time you see in the midst of the fair-haired blue-eyed white and pink women of Flanders a few beautiful girls, whose eyes are black and whose skins are the colour of gold. They are the descendants of Zizi.
*A traditional Folktale from Holland

15:00 Writing From The Margins, Technological Narratives of Arabic Typography

J.R. Osborn (University of California, San Diego)
Narratives of Arabic typography shift between technological exclusion, historical resistance, and cultural rediscovery. From negotiations surrounding the display of Arabic script by Internet browsers, to stories framing Egyptian printing as a direct result of the Napoleonic invasion, to claims suggesting Arabic typography as the continuation of a rich calligraphic tradition, the histories and possibilities of Arabic writing come to signify inclusion and exclusion within international media networks. Drawing upon historical examples as well as interviews with contemporary typographers, the paper examines how narratives of Arabic script situate readers, writers, and designers in relation to global flows of information exchange. The marginality of Arabic writing alternatively suggests a weakened cultural position or a strengthened critical stance, and ‘writing from the margins’ reflects both these concerns. On the one hand, ‘marginal writing’ indicates the continuing negotiation of technological difficulties facing Arabic typography and the role of Arabic in global networks of communication. How do assumptions of programming and technology limit the types of writing that contribute to online debates? But the phrase also refers to the importance of marginal commentary in the Arabic manuscript tradition, and the importance of the margin as a place of both the reflection upon and the expansion of a dominant text. How might these practices translate into the realms of print and, more recently, digital design? And how might the ‘marginality’ of Arabic typography offer a critical mirror with which to examine Internet discourse dominated by Latin characters?

15:20 The Current Market for Arabic Fonts, Recent Developments and Consumer Needs

Nadine Chahine (Linotype Library, Germany)
The Arabic type market has changed dramatically in the last few years, and this has been mainly inspired by recent technology developments, globalisation and the growth of the Arab graphic design scene. This presentation will discuss highlights from Linotype's Arabic Type Design Contest, showcasing current trends in design, as well as future possibilities. It will also take a look at Linotype's best sellers, and some recent corporate type projects.

15:40 The Typographic Landscapes of the Arab World, Research on Aesthetic Trends and Legibility

Tarek Atrissi (Atrissi Design, Hilversum)
Tarek Atrissi’s will present a research on aesthetic trends and design conventions in the Arab world, through the analysis of selected current practices in Arabic type design, corporate identities, and contemporary graphic design. The perception of the Arab visual culture, within the Arab world itself (and its varied sub-cultural differences), and in the western world, will be discussed in relation to the challenges faced by designers nowadays. Some case studies will be used to show the typographic landscape across the Arab world though presenting various design projects such as the book entitled "Visual Narratives from Arabia" and compiled by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès and Tarek Atrissi, as well as the latest projects developed in 2007 by Tarek Atrissi Design, which hold significant cross cultural challenges.

16:00—16:10 break 16:10 The Typographic Matchmaking Project: Developing Dual-Script Fonts

Willem Velthoven interviewing the Typographic Matchmaking Type Designers: Nadine Chahine, Gerard Unger, Tarek Atrissi, Peter Bilak, Pascal Zoghbi, Lucas de Groot and Lara Assouad Khoury.

16:40 CLosing Session

Symposium Speakers

17:00—Opening of the El-HEMA exhibition and cultural project