From Latin to Arabic and Back Again

Leen Sadder, from Beirut, Lebanon, took part in the Summer 2010 SVA Masters Workshop in Venice and Rome. Her Venice project for Louise Fili’s type guidebook class involved the translation of Italian signs into Arabic. I asked her why:

I was inspired by the hand-lettered signs I kept seeing all over Venice and wanted to really get into the details of the lettering and put myself in place of the sign painter. It was sort of like a puzzle; I would have to figure out how the sign had originally been made and apply the technique to the Arabic letters. The exercise forced me to look at every detail and mimic it while maintaining the legibility of the language.

The main difficulty faced in creating the adaptations was figuring out how to apply a very Latin technique of sign painting to the Arabic letters, as well as making sure not to compromise legibility for form. I ended up choosing to use transliterations of the words instead of translations in order to really focus on the form and not the meaning of the lettering.

I think the fluid and flexible nature of the Arabic letters lends itself to more experimentation than we have seen lately. While lettering and sign painting is making a huge comeback in Latin-based typography, Arabic typography today seems to be more focused on the calligraphic qualities rather than the decorative or ornamental, and I feel that there is lots of room for experimentation in that realm.

For more on the Masters Workshop go here and see video here.

(See the Nightly Heller on Sonia Delaunay here.)

One thought on “From Latin to Arabic and Back Again

  1. Maece Seirafi

    I agree with the fact that there is plenty of room for experimentation when it comes to Arabic hand lettering and ornament. Many successful examples of handlettering are seen in Arabic graffiti on the streets of Gaza and Beirut if they were to be paired with their Latin counterparts.
    It is an interesting challenge to try to create a billingual equilibrium between the two alphabets and maintain a visual and cultural balance between the two. From my experience is that one of the alphabets will falter between a fine line of appearing more aesthetically Arabic or more Latin. But it all depends on what the intent of how and where these two alphabets will live.
    Its very difficult not to look at the calligraphic nature of Arabic and Latin letterforms since it all goes back to penmenship and readability. But finding how the two alphabets work together harmoniously is what interests me as a bilingual designer. I tackled that challenge when trying to create a bilingual Kufic lettering system that would operate as bilingual word ligatures. This was for my MFA thesis at CalArts 2010: http://www.maeceseirafi.com/index.php?/project/thesis/ I am continuing my explorations of this lettering system and hope to complete this sometime.
    It is an optimistic time to see how simultaneous readability in Arabic and English operates in a multi-cultural space.

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