Arabic typography goes mainstream?

Shame he couldn't enter himself (he's a judge): Wissam Shawkat, The Love Garden

Arabic typography is to be featured as a new category in the Al Burda Award 2021. The competition for the Award – postponed last year because of the pandemic, and misleadingly singular (there are awards in several categories) – is due to be held in December during Expo 2020 Dubai, as part of the Al Burda Festival of performances, exhibitions and conference sessions on Islamic culture.

The addition of the new category aims to “promote the art of Arabic typography, revive traditional practices through using modern technology and media, integrate Islamic thought into modern design, and strengthen the connection of young designers to their Islamic heritage”. If it can do all that from the off, it will be a notable arrival on the graphic design scene.

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, reckons the Al Burda Award in general has now become a global platform for Islamic arts. She is also quick to emphasise the way it adds lustre to the country’s external image: “The award contributed to strengthening the UAE’s position as a global destination for Islamic culture and arts, and its role in preserving and disseminating Islamic arts and introducing its contemporary forms.” Introducing the Arabic Typography category she sees as encourage younger artists and designers from around the world, “highlighting our Islamic and human heritage and conveying it in the spirit of youth”.

The jury for the newly-established award is a pretty stellar collection of names from this specialised area – Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, founder and creative director of Lebanon’s Khatt Foundation and author of several Arabic typography books; Wissam Shawkat, the Dubai-based Iraqi calligrapher and printmaker who has just closed an excellent show at Mestaria on Alserkal Avenue; Alanood Bukhammas, lecturer in graphic design at Zayed University’s College of Arts and Creative Enterprises in Dubai; and Salem Faisal Al-Qassimi, the entrepreneurial graphic designer who is the man behind Fikra Design Studio and the Fikra Graphic Design Biennial in Sharjah (Al Burda’s current visual identity was actually developed by Fikra a couple of years ago).

The Al Burda Award aims to celebrate the aesthetics of Islamic arts, emphasising the spirit of innovation and creativity as well as its diversity of forms and methods; it also encourages a fusion of traditional artistic practices with modern technology, though this hasn’t necessarily been evident to date in all categories. The Typography category joins awards for Classical and Modern Calligraphy, Ornamentation, and Nabati and Classical Poetry.

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