Three VCUarts Qatar projects are blending Arabic typography with sports and culture in a unique contemporary fusion
Reflecting Qatar’s role in emphasizing the importance of Arabic identity and the Arabic language, and its belief that art echoes a society’s culture, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar – a Qatar Foundation partner university – has adopted three initiatives supporting these efforts.
The three initiatives – TypeAraby, Lu3’atna, and Neon Musings’ - aim to promote the Arabic language and revive Arabic typography through linking it with sports and culture, in a unique contemporary blend.
According to Basma Hamdy, Associate Professor of Graphic Design, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar), one of the most crucial and defining aspects of the preservation of the Arabic language across two millennia is its script. Established in pre-Islamic times, and reaching its peak during the Ottoman era, calligraphers have developed and refined the art of calligraphy over a period of nearly 500 years, achieving the peak of expertise in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
“Continuing to revive and re-introduce Arabic typography with a contemporary vision, while emphasizing the identity and originality of the Arabic language throughout history, is what we seek to achieve through several initiatives and projects at VCUarts Qatar,” she said.
Among our projects is the TypeAraby platform, which is dedicated to the creation, study, promotion, and preservation of Arabic typography and type-design
“Among our projects, is the TypeAraby platform, which is dedicated to the creation, study, promotion, and preservation of Arabic typography and type-design. It was initiated by the Graphic Design Department at VCUarts Qatar as a laboratory space for cultivating a contemporary vision for Arabic type, while maintaining and promoting its traditional calligraphic roots as an important mechanism for language sustainability.”
The platform is a springboard for events, workshops, lectures, exhibitions and publications that engage local, regional and international creative communities.
Another project which links Arabic typography with sports and culture at VCUarts Qatar, is Lu3’atna, a collaborative design project that is celebrates the beauty and diversity of Qatar’s rich linguistic identity in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. The project is funded by QNRF’s Undergraduate Research Experience Program and is led by Hamdy and Dr. Robert Bianchi, Associate Professor at VCUarts Qatar, as well as five senior students from the university’s Graphic Design, Interior Design, Fashion Design and Art History majors.
We thought of having the modest and layered style of local youth reimagined in bold colors and designed with a playful, linguistic twist
“People around the world will join Qatar in expressing their passion and love for football,” said Hamdy. “This is an opportunity to share local football words and phrases in a dynamic and playful visual campaign,
“The work presented in this project is the result of extensive research, countless brainstorming sessions, and a wonderful collaboration between multiple disciplines. And as language and fashion thrive in and adapt to their social environment, we thought of having the modest and layered style of local youth reimagined in bold colors and designed with a playful, linguistic twist, creating unique pieces reminiscent of athleisure wear.”.
Lu3’atna represents “combinatorial” systems of interventions that can be adapted to public spaces, with variants of its pop-up structure able to operate independently or be combined together in different ways. The first pop-up is an educational area that encourages visitors to broaden their familiarity with Qatari Arabic through interactivity and sports, while the second is a gift shop that showcases and sells all the designs created under the Lu3’atna brand.
Exploring within contemporary lettering and local Qatari phrases makes the displayed pieces showcase the colorful intersection between sports and culture within the World Cup
“Exploring within contemporary lettering and local Qatari phrases makes the displayed pieces showcase the colorful intersection between sports and culture within the World Cup.” Basma said.
Meanwhile, Neon Musings is a collaborative project between the TypeAraby platform and the Materials Library at VCUarts Qatar. It aims to revive the lost art of Arabic neon signs by creating contemporary messages in Arabic created with neon lights.
Hamdy explained how the methods and tools used for practicing Arabic calligraphy evolved, starting from the use of traditional ink and reed pens which are sharpened and prepared specifically to write on paper, to the contemporary Arabic typography which is created digitally through computers.
“While digital Arabic typography is based on many of the principles of calligraphy and its system of elegant proportionality, it also explores the future of the Arabic script, its adaptability, evolution, and technological implications,” she said.
With Doha being the Capital of Culture in the Islamic World 2021, and taking into account the close connection between the Islamic identity and Arabic language, Qatar is making significant efforts to promote the art of Arabic calligraphy and Arabic language as a whole.
“In Qatar, there are many initiatives through the media and various cultural institutions that are focusing on the Arabic language and Islamic arts,” Hamdy said.
“Qatar also houses an important collection of Islamic artifacts at the Museum of Islamic Art, and has established a growing collection of rare Arabic books at Qatar National Library. There are efforts to produce television series, symposiums, school curricula, and cultural events that focus on Arabic and calligraphy, which have contributed to Doha earning this title of Capital of Culture in the Islamic World.”