Wednesday, August 29, 2007

El Hema: an e-culture event

It all started out with a project to produce new Arabic fonts for the computer. But it grew into a hilarious exercise in multi cultural integration.

The Amsterdam new media developer Mediamatic got involved in the project Typographical Matchmaking, a project of the Khatt Foundation. In a co-operation of Arabic designers and Dutch typographers, five new Arabic fonts were designed. But the project did not stop there as the project was intended to show how graphical design and typography contributes to the Arabic youth culture. In a linked symposium designers and researchers from the Middle East, US and Europe would shed their vision on the new forms of visual expression and cross cultural designs with presentations on the printing of Arabic books, relationship between typography and dance and expressive calligraphy.

It would have been a nice project and symposium by itself. And undoubtedly the fonts will make their way into Arabic publications. But then a brainwave crossed the creative minds at Mediamatic. Talking about cross cultures is rather academic; so let us translate this Arabic culture to the Dutch culture by using the fonts on a real Dutch icon. And like every country the Dutch have several icons: clogs, tulips, artists like Rembrandt and van Gogh and soccer players like Cruijff and Van Basten; some will also add hash. But what is really Dutch is the Hema, a discount retail chain, famous for its smoked sausage, underwear and other items.

Dutch and Arabic logos (not the final design)

Mediamatic started to develop an Arabic house style for the Hema and to produce some items. When the Hema board heard of the project, they were not very happy. They were in the middle of the sale of the company to a British investor and thought that it would influence the negotiations. But after a few talks the Hema board understood the intention and did not object any longer. In fact they became cooperative.

The definitive logo

Last weekend, during a cultural festival in Amsterdam, the Arabic Hema, baptised into El Hema, was open for business. A complete product line had been designed with products the Dutch Hema is famous for. Instead of the juicy Hema smoked sausage there was Halel sausage. In textile there were shawls, T-shirts and slips with Arabic texts, and bed covers with Arabic poems. For children there were Jibril and Jamilah products. And a really Dutch product was on sale: chocolate letters of Arabic fonts; during the celebration of feast of Saint Nicolas in the Netherlands on December 5, children are given the initial letter of their first name in chocolate. By Sunday night the El Hema had sold out, even after limiting sales to two items per person.

What started as a serious project turned into an impressive e-Culture event.

Blog Posting Number: 852

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