Publisher: Saqi Books
Publication date: 2016
Canvas rating: *****
Calligraphic script is ubiquitous in Egypt, its styles ranging from graphic and modern to elaborate and traditional. In this colorful volume edited by Basma Hamdy and with photographs by Noha Zayed, we see Arabic lettering or khatt in its many versatile forms as expressed across Egypt – in hand-painted letterings and signs, advertisements, cinema posters, truck, tuk tuk and taxi decorations, public signboards – it is found on multiple surfaces and textures. “This lettering landscape constitutes a living record of Egypt’s popular visual culture,” writes Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès in her foreword. She outlines the book’s raison d’être: to keep a record of this culture, as digitization and new printing techniques are busy erasing it. “It is a visual heritage that is slowly disappearing…
To document, analyze and pass on this knowledge to the generations that follow is crucial to the progress of future graphic culture in Egypt and the Arab world”A worthy endeavor and executed beautifully, thanks in large part to Zayed’s photographs, which never neglect the human element in whichever setting she works. The book also contains interviews with graphic and calligraphic artists, including the collective Eleiwa (the same group who run the Bronze Inventor) in conversation with graphic designer Ahmed Hammoud, and el Seed (whose large-scale work Perception changed the urban landscape of a marginalized Cairene neighborhood), as well as an essay by curator Mohamed Elshahed. The specificity and simplicity of the book’s aim add to its strength, with Khatt not only documenting this crucial element of Egypt’s visual culture but elevating it too.