Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Arabic Graffiti

Who is Malu Halasa? Publication design? The Mosaic Rooms conducted an interview…

The Mosaic Rooms posted this Sept. 13, 2013

Q&A with author, writer, editor and curator Malu Halasa

Malu Halasa will be in conversation with Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, co-founder of Carwan Gallery and Lebanese designer, Najla El Zein on Saturday 14 September, 12pm at The Mosaic Rooms. FREE,

1/ What Middle Eastern design are you looking at?

Because I write and produce books that have a visual component to them, I’m very interested in publications design from the region. Dar Onboz produces a wide range of material from children’s books to flip books, films, music, and shadow puppet plays.

It is a cornucopia of compelling innovative design. Pascal Zoghbi is an Arabic typographer and graphic designer at the studio 29 Letters who has co-edited groundbreaking books such as Arabic Graffiti.

There is the multidisciplinary design team from Solidere, under the creative direction of Nathalie El Mir, the group behind the biannual urbanist and architectural journal I was working for, in Beirut, Portal 9: Stories and Critical Writing about the City, edited by Fadi Tofeili.

I also always keep up with the projects of my co-editor of The Secret Life of Syrian LingerieRana Salam. She was instrumental in teaching me how to ‘read’ the Arab street.


Cornucopia of compelling design by Lebanese publishers, artists and musicians Dar Onboz.

Their book Saba’a w 7, with illustrations by Fadi Adleh and story by Nadine Touma, was turned into a shadow puppet play in collaboration with Collectif Kahraba.

2/ You have a varied working life as an author, writer, editor and curator, what is the current project that you are working on?

With my two co-editors/co-curators Aram Tahhan and Nawara Mahfoud, I am presently finishing Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, an anthology of art and writing from the Syrian uprising.

The book features cartoons, comic strips, art and photography alongside critical essays, and literature. Our contributors include writers Khaled Khalifa, Samer Yazbek, Yassin El Haj Saleh, Hassan Abbas, Yara Badr, Rasha Omran, and Ali Safar and artists Ali Ferzat, Masasit Mati, Alshaab Alsori Aref Tarekh, Youseff Abdelki, Khalil Younes, and Sulafa Hijazi, among many others

Syria Speaks came out of the exhibitions of Syrian uprising art that the three of us did in 2012-13 in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London. The book, which will be published next year, is supported by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, in Amsterdam.


Syria Speaks will be published in English by Saqi Books in London and in Arabic by Dar Saqi in Beirut, next year.

Cover design by James Nunn showing an image from a political poster by the anonymous Syrian artists collective Alshaab Alsori Aref Tarekh.

3/ Beirut has been described as ‘the Berlin of the Middle East’ by the two founders of Carwan Gallery, what similarities do you see?

Despite the political upheavals in Lebanon and on its borders, creatives in Beirut keep producing.

Sivine Ariss from Dar Onboz just explained to me over skype now, “Our work is our resistance.

In many ways Beirut is not like Berlin. But like Berlin, Beirut supports its artists and designers by nourishing them culturally. Through these imaginative interactions with Arab culture – story telling and the oral tradition, and and with materials and the history of making in the region, Ariss and others provide new understanding not just about another place but life as it is lived now. Their work has meaning for us all.

Master of Type, Graffiti, public expression, Beirut

On a wall close to the American University of Beirut, a stencil has been crudely blacked out with a layer of thick paint.

Beirut’s walls were once considered acceptable forums for public expression, but the city is changing.

The critics disagree not simply with the presence of the graffiti, but its message too.

Pascal Zoghbi, an Arabic typographer, was one of the first commentators to pick up on this trend.

Paul McLoughlin in BrownBook posted on Feb. 14, 2013:

Pascal Zoghbi’s interest in street art began in Europe, when he studied his Master’s in typography at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Netherlands.

Pascal said: ‘During my stay I travelled all over Europe and graffiti was very prominent there. ‘When I went back to Beirut, I noticed the scene was beginning to look stronger. So I spent time taking pictures of all the graffiti I found and wrote some pieces about it on my blog. I saw that the graffiti scene in the Arab world is much more in touch with the social and political status of the people. This is highlighted by the witty slogans on the walls of the region’s capitals rather just than the names of the artists like in other parts of the world.’

After 3 years of documenting the regional graffiti trends, Zoghbi was contacted by a European street artist Don Karl, to assist him on a series of workshops on Arabic style graffiti in Lebanon.  Zoghbi (32 of age) has considerable experience in teaching, from the typography classes he leads at the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University.

The graffiti workshops, however, put him in touch with the Lebanese street artists involved in the graffiti scene. After researching more, Zoghbi began to take a particular interest in the socio-political connections of graffiti in his home country from as far back as the 1970s and he also concentrated on different trends in Palestine, Bahrain and Syria.

These observations resulted in a book published last year entitled Arabic Graffiti. It presents Zoghbi’s studies of graffiti across the region and connects the dots between the slogans and coinciding social events that inspired the artists.

In the book, Pascal focuses on Arab and non-Arab graffiti artists and  he illustrates the typographic and calligraphic elements behind their work. After printing the book in English and French, Zoghbi says he is looking forward to working on a second edition of the book in the coming years, as well as an Arabic translation.

Zoghbi presents graffiti as an intellectual trend rather than a reckless act of vandalism by frustrated youth. He argues, that it speaks of social and political life in the Arab world. ‘We selected artists who experiment in Arabic graffiti with thoughts that connect with events in the region.’

There is also an aesthetic element to this regional style that has attracted non-Arabic speakers such as the UK’s Mohammed Ali. These are artists catalogued by Zoghbi in his work but it is the actual art that draws him back to this part of the world.

‘Now we are seeing some artists who are developing their own Arabic styles. It is still a young trend but it is growing to be very strong. For me, I think it is even more interesting than what is happening in the West. A lot of street art in Palestine is in Arabic but in Lebanon we are more used to using English and French, as that is what is taught in schools. However, in recent years we are beginning to see Arabic being used more and more.’

Following recent events in the region, he also argues that it has never been a more dangerous time to be a graffiti artist owing to the powerful messages of their often gallows-humour slogans. This includes a study in the book of the colourful and ironic murals daubed on the West Bank’s separation wall as well as the idioms that led to change in Egypt.

‘It’s all part of the message so we tried to make a link. For me it’s very important to make this link because I don’t see the need for graffiti unless it has a different message to say,’ Pascal adds.

Zoghbi has highlighted the dangers graffiti artists are under in some parts of the Arab world through articles, but he also points out that some work included is simply for its artistic merit. He says the artists themselves are from a variety of backgrounds, but are most common amongst the graphic design community.

Many designers are using this type of calligraphy in their design work and vice versa. What we are seeing is that styles of Arabic calligraphy are becoming more urban-inspired due to street art.’

It might not be a surprise then, that Zoghbi sees Arabic typography as going through a similar renaissance, which can be seen in his contributions to the Khatt Foundation project, Typographic Matchmaking in the City.

29 Arabic Letters is Zoghbi’s Arabic typeface response to these new dynamics. Its main mission is in creating new Arabic fonts and corporate identities in the Arab world. His work includes producing the Droid Arabic fonts for Google and the Corporate Mathaf type face for Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.

‘On my list for the future is to work on other books and continue my work with the Khatt Foundation. ‘Personally, based on my academic experience, I feel there is a lack of books that deal with Arabic typographic guidelines from an educational perspective. I therefore think something like this will be of huge use to both students and professionals.’

Zoghbi’s broad experience in typography through his academic and commercial work, has put him in a good position to pick up on trends in lettering and he hopes that contemporary street art could be a way of strengthening Arabic typography.

‘It is not just about the people who are writing on the walls but my own hope and willingness that the Arab graffiti artists will be inspired by Arabic calligraphy in their work and not just to imitate Western styles.’

As Zoghbi highlights in his work, this is something which is already playing out in countries such as Syria, Palestine and Lebanon and looks set to move away from the peripheral and contribute more directly to the dialogue and changes in mainstream culture in the Middle East.

Pascal Zoghbi, Interviewed for BrownBook Magazine by Paul McLoughlin.




March 2023

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