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The Exchange Room

Source collection

Blockprinted amulets (11th century)

Centuries before block printing was introduced in Europe, the technique was used in the Islamic world to produce miniature texts consisting of prayers, incantations, and Qur'anic verses that were kept in amulet boxes.

Pseudo Kufic on Gentille De Fabriano’s Madonna (1415)

Influenced by exotic artifacts – like the blockprinted amulets – brought back from the Middle East through both conflict and trade with the Ottoman Empire,  Early Renaissance painters embellished their work with complicated patterns and eastern-style scripts in an effort to create an "oriental" atmosphere, especially with regard to persons or scenes from the Holy Land. By the 16th century, orientalism in religious artwork all but disappeared, as the Italian churches wanted to emphasize a more Roman context to their history.

Book of hours by Gregorio de Gregorii, 1514

The ‘book of hours’ is a Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages, most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms. The Kitab salat al-sawai (1514), widely considered the first book in Arabic printed using moveable type, is a book of hours intended for Arabic-speaking Christians and presumably commissioned by Pope Julius II.

Eric Gill’s attempts to draw an Arabic font, 1934

Fascinated by Arabic script, Eric Gill managed to receive a commission to design an Arabic typeface for linotype and monotype machines, the first of its kind in 1934. The project was not a success. The idea of mechanised typefaces was something that collided with traditions of calligraphy. Experts pointed out that “the divisions of the letters were not in the right places” and “it shows a lack of knowledge of the language and the script”.

Khattar’s unified arabic (1947)

Unified Arabic (UA) is basically a set of 30 letterforms, one for each letter of the Arabic alphabet, eliminating the variant forms that make reading and writing Arabic difficult for beginners. Initiated and designed by Nasri Khattar, Unified Arabic was not the first attempt to adapt Arabic to mechanical printing processes. As early as the 15th century, printers had attempted to simulate the cursive forms using movable type, but their efforts resulted in type cases of up to 500 characters per font, making manual and mechanical typesetting a laborious task at odds with the demands of unit-based mass production.

The Latinizing Arabic by Yahya Bouteinene (1952)

This project consisted of constructing the Arabic letter from the Latin alphabet, but it broke all traditions of Arabic type and could never be accepted.

Kashida 3-d typeface: Yara Khoury, Melle Hammer 2011

Developed within the ‘Typographic Matchmaking’ project initiated by Huda Abi Fares, the font is based on the concept of a thin and wide ribbon, bending freely through space. Just from one perspective the text reproduced by the ribbon can be read. The two-script three-dimensional ‘kasheeda’ typeface was fabricated using a 3-D printing machine that outputs a digital file as a three-dimensional form.


The ‘Arabian Nights’ font by Jungmyung Lee, 2015

Jungmyung Lee is a freelance graphic designer based in the Netherlands mainly focusing on types and project-based performances. She studied at the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem. She sees typefaces as people, with their own history, ideas and feelings. She designed the ‘Arabian Nights’ font in 2015.

Kanat block type, Lara Captan, 2016

“It is time for a new era in Arabic Type Design. An era in which the script is the source of typographic information,” states Lara Captan  in ‘Arabic Script to Type: a Manifesto (version 1)’ that she wrote together with Kristyan Sarkis. In 2016 she designs 'Kanat', the woodtype that destroys all borders set up by western design, and finds his own way on the letterpress machines.

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