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Like a treasure hunt that never ends, Arabesque exhibits extensive works of Arabic graphic design along with various gems culled from the richly intricate and detailed Arabic visual culture.

Title: Arabesque – Graphic Design from the Arab World and Persia
Publisher: Gestalten
Editors: Ben Wittner, Sascha Thoma, and Nicolas Bourquin

Thrown onto an island, the treasure hunter is lost and unknowing of what awaits, but with more time spent on the island, he discovers more about the culture. Without any prior knowledge on Arabic graphic design, one can only appreciate the beautiful artworks on a superficial level while turning the pages of the book. Once, twice, thrice, the more one browses its content, the more details his eyes catch.

In the foreword by the Director of Khatt Foundation, Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, who is a typographer, graphic designer, researcher, writer, and author of Arabic Typography, Experimental Arabic Type and Typographic Matchmaking, she gave readers the treasure map of the Contemporary Middle Eastern Visual Culture.

Relating the origins of Arabic calligraphy and typography, as well as the visual culture’s past and present trends, Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès also commended Western influences on Middle Eastern visual aesthetics as designers embrace Western ideologies. She saw the marriage of East and West, Old and New as “getting recognized, creating a refreshing change, and making a distinctive mark” in today’s design industry, giving it a different definition as the visual culture of the Arab world and Persia grows.

Introductory interviews at the beginning of each section with renowned artists, calligraphers, illustrators, graphic and type designers such as Mouneer El Shaarani, Native and Zen Two, George Azmy, Nermine Hammam, Behrouz Hariri, Iman Raad, Nadine Chahine, Pascal Zoghbi, Wissam Shawkat and two founding members of FC Studio, Ibrahim Eslam and Ahmed Hafez, allow readers to have a better grasp of the art that lies in wait for them as the interviewees express their views on current design industry and trends.

Though Native and Zen Two’s interviews mentioned that “our combined lives are that of cultural pirates and our works are a vessel in which we navigate the vast and treacherous seas of culture”, it does not mean that Arabic graphic design industry is smooth sailing and widely accepted. Clients want designs that look more Western and European and “since after September 11th everything connected to the Arab world is potentially viewed with a skeptical eye”, said Nermine Hammam in his interview.

In spite of the rough odyssey, Arabic visual culture is significantly gaining greater attention and acceptance globally.

With only the title and designer’s name as caption, illustrations and graphics are left free for interpretation.

Arabic words themselves are a form of art, but Arabic graphic design does not just end there. Similar to treasures that do not just stop at gold or precious gems, Arabesque exhibits a spectrum of graphic design from the Arabic world and Persia that ranges from calligraphy, “pictural”, and “pictural” type to logos, type design, and graphics.

Undoubtedly, these enticing treasures of the Arabic world and Persia have lured designers from all around the world into embodying Arabic solitaire into their work such as type design, Chinese paintings, pop art, graffiti art and mixed media photographs and illustrations, forming a global multicultural society whilst defining “their own identity within this murky water of hybrid ‘global’ design”.

As the reader indulges in the riches within the treasure trove, he discovers new details, hence tracing back and forth the route to pick up what he has previously missed out. Walking to and fro, one will unearth the finest of the lot: the entire pursuit and the knowledge that one learns from the adventure.

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