Tehran Calling (the Clash of Civilizations Reconsidered)

Whether embraced as a valid political paradigm or derided as shallow, anachronistic reductionism, the “clash of civilizations” has received a great deal of attention over the past decade. Yet, despite obvious historical precedent, one aspect of the process has been consistently ignored: the potential for positive cultural exchange of the type that helped pull Europe out of the dark ages the last time these cultures clashed.

Ever hopeful, we look to several recently published English language books on Arabic and Persian graphic design and typography as evidence of the way in which popular commercial culture can pull an end-run on political or religious authority.



Arabesque: Graphic Design from the Arab World and Persia

? 2008: Ben Wittner, Sascha Thoma & Nicolas Bourquin

This is the most important book on a graphic design subject published in the past year. The work and the tradition from which it springs is astounding, as, in retrospect, was our complete ignorance of its existence. Maybe you already know all about the scene in Tehran (in which case you’ll almost certainly want this book) otherwise prepare to have any presumptions you may have about contemporary Arabic typography and design utterly obliterated. (2008: Die Gestalten Verlag; ISBN 9783899552065)

Iranian Typography: 50 Years of Calligraphy and Typography in Iranian Graphic Design

? 2007: Peter Thomas-Hill

Documenting an exhibition held at the Basel School of Design in 2007 and remounted last year at York University by Borzu Talaie and Behrouz Hariri (here is Behrouz’s article on modern Iranian typography for Ping Magazine), this catalogue focuses primarily on poster and logotype work produced, despite the title, in the past five years. The poster work is particularly interesting and recalls Max Bill or Müller Brockman on the one hand and the great Japanese poster designers of the 1980s, Tanaka, Matsunaga, Toda and Katsui on the other. More interesting than the similarities, however, are the profound differences. As Michael Renner, head of the School states in his introduction, there is clearly no need to fear the advent of a globalized monoculture in graphic design just yet. (2007: Nazar Research and Culture Institute; ISBN 9789646994584)

Arabic for Designers

? 2006: Mourad Boutros

A visual showcase of contemporary Arabic commercial graphics, selected by London-based pioneer Boutros. Along with some lovely successes the books offers several illuminating stories of major cultural mishaps by global corporations. (2006: Mark Batty Publishers; ISBN 0976224550)

Dot Font: Talking About Arabic

? 2009: Mourad Boutros

Arabic calligraphic traditions are intimately linked to the sacred text, consequently any discussion of how to adapt this tradition to the computer age inevitably invokes religious and nationalistic sentiment. In this follow-up to Arabic for Designers, Boutros offers a series of themed essays by a variety of expert contributors which examine the cultural, religious and aesthetic issues raised by digitized Arabic typography. (2009: Mark Batty Publisher; ISBN 9780979554667)

Urban Iran

? 2008: Salar Abdoh & Charlotte Noruzi

An odd and personal piece from novelist Salar Abdoh and Tehran-based photographer and designer Karan Reshad, this collection of photography, graffiti and essays taken from the contemporary Iranian cultural magazine Bidoun, provide unique insight into how young urban Iranians view themselves and their culture. (2008: Mark Batty Publications; ISBN 9780979966613)

Typographic Matchmaking: Building Cultural Bridges with Typeface Design

? 2007: Huda Smitshuijzen Abifares

One of the most ambitious (and controversial) projects in Arabic typography, the Khatt Foundation has paired Dutch and Arabic type designers with an eye to extending recently designed Latin typefaces through the addition of the Arabic Unicode character set. Each of the five collaborations is documented and the broader aesthetic, technical and political issues surrounding the creation of Arabic equivalents to Latin ones are discussed. Additionally the book comes with a cd-rom containing 10 Arabic font developed by the project, licensed for non-commercial use. (2007: BIS Publishers; ISBN 9789063691240)

Arabesque: Graphic Design from the Arab World and Persia: $89.95
Iranian Typography: 50 Years of Calligraphy and Typography in Iranian Graphic Design: $54.95
Arabic for Designers: $43.50
Dot Font: Talking About Arabic: $23.95 (not yet published)
Urban Iran: $32.95
Typographic Matchmaking: Building Cultural Bridges with Typeface Design: $49.95


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