The Khatt Foundation
Written by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, Founding Director of the Khatt Foundation
Center for Arabic Typography
Founded in 2004, the Amsterdam-based Khatt Foundation provides a fresh platform for Arabic arts, with the flowing Arabic script as its focus.
Since its origin, the Arabic script has been a strong visual emblem for Arab and Islamic cultures. Venerated and beautified, it has been displayed on walls as poetry, applied to holy books and buildings, and decorated both expensive and everyday objects and utensils. Borrowing from the rich calligraphic heritage of the older masters, contemporary Arab designers are transforming the art and craft into contemporary Arabic word-images as logotypes for Arab corporations.
In less than six years, the Khatt Foundation has established itself as a platform for typography-based cross-cultural design projects that address the immediate needs of design in the region. Partnering with established institutions, and through its expanding network of designers, typographers, and other creative individuals from across the globe, the Foundation has transformed the results of these projects into viable, commercially available products, and an unparalleled source of inspiration.
Typographic Matchmaking 1.0 (2004–2007)
In this three-year project, ten Arab and Dutch type de-signers collaborated on creating five new Arabic fonts that match existing Latin fonts, thus producing five dual-script font families for books and publications.
“The differences are so huge that in fact it would seem almost impossible.”
Pascal, a leading type and graphic designer, had already been working on a font, entitled Massira, when the opportu-nity to work with Majoor arose. “This project’s most interesting aspect is that it links Arab and Dutch type designers and encourages them to collaborate and learn from each other. After taking a closer look at Martin’s typeface Seria and analysing its characteristics, I noticed that the treatment of the stroke and the structure of the letters had some similarities to my Massira typeface. Consequently, I grew confident in the project and decided to use Massira as a starting point for the new Arabic companion of Seria.”
The resulting font, Sada (meaning ‘echo’), became the first font used by a major font library, FontShop, and is now sold as FF Seria Arabic. Other fonts from the project – BigVesta, Fresco, TheMix, and Fedra (by Peter Bilak and Ta-rek Atrissi; used in Oryx) – have between them won numerous international awards. All contributed to the advance-ment of contemporary typographic design in the region, and set the trend for bilingual consumer font families by mainstream font foundries and designers. The benefits to Arab/Middle Eastern culture have been subtle, but there is definitely a growing interest in contemporary design and typography.
The book, Typographic Matchmaking 1.0, provides a fascinating insight into the process, and provides guidelines for other designers interested in Arabic type design.
A sequel project
Following the first project’s success, Typographic Matchmaking in the City 2.0 (2008–present), fo-cuses on typography in the urban environment. This project is developing Arabic and Latin fonts for multilingual ur-ban poetry, creating unique public spaces within cosmopolitan cities. This time the project will include collaborations between Arab and Dutch type designers, graphic designers, and architects. It will provide a model for working with contemporary lettering and texts that goes beyond the practical needs of commercial signs, one that becomes public art and inspiring cultural interventions. The project will end with a book containing essays by renowned designers and architects, case studies, and process sketches, and a documentary film and touring exhibition (with lectures and workshops).
Farah Behbehani is an independent graphic designer specialising in print and editorial design, and Arabic calligraphy. Born in Kuwait and raised in Switzerland, she was educated in the USA and UK. For her MA in Communication Design from London’s Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, Farah integrated her passion for Arabic calligraphy with studies in Western graphic design. Farah studies calligraphy with renowned Syrian artist and calligrapher Khaled Al Saai. In 2008, Thames & Hudson published her thesis work, a book she designed and based on Farid Ud-Din Attar’s The Conference of the Birds. Illustrated with her own Jali Diwani calligraphy, this project revisits classic Sufi literature and creates a decoding system to make Arabic calligraphy more accessible for non-Arabic readers. Farah’s work has been displayed at exhibitions around the world, to great acclaim. Her impressive and highly successful wall sticker designs ‘Ruh’ and ‘Fann’ , for the Project Mulsaq design competition, were selected and included in the limited edition of the Khatt Design Collection of Wall Stickers.
Pascal Zoghbi, an exponent of Arabic type design, was born and lives in Lebanon. After receiving his Bachelor De-gree of Arts from Notre Dame University (NDU) in Lebanon, he graduated with a Master of Design from the Type & Media course at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. Pascal was involved in the Khatt Foundation’s Typographic Matchmaking 1.0 project, and now participates in Typographic Matchmaking in the City 2.0. Collaborating with Martin Majoor he developed the font Sada Arabic, which has been expanded and re-published as the Arabic extension to the Seria type family. He was a member of the team of Arab designers that developed the El Hema exhibition products, packaging, and promotional material. His design ‘Mahroosa Ya Aroosa’ for the Project Mulsaq design competition was included in the limited edition of the Khatt Design Collection of Wall Stickers. Pascal, who works on the design team of Qatar Airways’ Oryx magazine, is an independent type and graphic designer, and part-time instructor at LAU (Lebanese American University) and NDU.
Lara Assouad Khoury from Lebanon was born in Montreal, Canada. A Bachelor in Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut, she works as an independent type and graphic designer in Beirut and Dubai. Following a spell at Leo Burnett in Lebanon, Lara joined Landor Associates in Dubai as a senior designer, primarily involved in the design of corporate identity projects for large Middle Eastern companies and institutions, and the visual branding for the country of Jordan. She obtained her MA from the Atelier National de Recherche Typographique in Nancy, France, after studying under renowned type designers Hans-J?rg Hunziker, Andre Baldinger, etc. Lara also taught graphic design and Arabic typography at the American University in Dubai. A designer in the Khatt Foundation’s Typographic Matchmaking 1.0 project, Lara collaborated with Fred Smeijers on the award-winning font Fresco Arabic. Her wall stickers design ‘Is Every Word an Image’ (with Nadine Touma) was included in the Khatt Design Collection of Wall Stickers. This collaboration led to children’s book design projects for Dar Onboz (Beirut).
How the Arabic alphabet works
Latin fonts are predominantly seen as stand-alone letters, equally spaced, with only a few instances – such as ‘joined-up’ hand-writing or typographer’s use of glyphs – offering any deviation from this. Arabic letters by contrast will change shape depending on their position in a word. Up to four variations for each letter appear: initial; medial; final; and isolated. Some letters, like ‘heh’, change dramatically in shape depending on its position, varying from one calligraphic style to another.
Below is a word-image of Al Maha, at top the letters in their isolated form; beneath, the letters as they stand con-nected to form the word. By following these basic shapes, it can be seen how the various proposed routes for this magazine’s logo came about, how such remarkably different-looking shapes read the same, while gaining some in-sight into the complexities of contemporary Arabic typography.
The Khatt Foundation
This non-profit cultural organisation is dedicated to design research and to rejuvenating (from within the culture) the applied arts traditions of the Arab world and the Middle East. The Khatt Foundation provides a platform for cultural dialogue and understanding between Western and Arab/Middle Eastern nations.
It initiates and supports projects that educate, promote the exchange of ideas, and encourage collaborative work. It is a centre for information about contemporary design in the Arab World, providing resources for all interested (regionally and internationally), and bringing cultural projects to a wider public.
It aims to bring an awareness of the vital role that design can play in building a sustainable environment, and provides networking opportunities for young Arab/Middle Eastern designers while helping them connect to international design industries.
The Foundation also strives to stimulate the creation of socially relevant artefacts that are designed and produced regionally to the highest professional standards. It intends to push the boundaries of Arabic typographic design and highlight its vital role in contemporary design and new media context.