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Who Gets to Design Arabic Typography?

June 28, 2023 | 6 pm CEST | online | with Sahar Afshar, Maha Akl, and Mohamed Gaber, co-moderated with Imad Gebrayel

Who Gets to Design Arabic Typography?

This roundtable discusses the need to politicize Arabic type design, its modes of production, and historical context.

In a recent Futuress article, designer and researcher Imad Gebrayel urged the need to politicize Arabic design, overturn exclusionary notions of “quality,” and challenge classist gatekeeping to the profession. The piece helped ignite a much-needed debate on the politics of Arabic-type design, which we hope to help sustain with a dedicated panel discussion.

Who gets to design Arabic typography? Whose bodies labor behind this wave of Arabic typefaces? Is literacy a prerequisite for designing a script? Are thorough research and technical knowledge enough to engage with a certain culture? When does the fascination with a foreign script become problematic? How should we reposition Arabic type design within its historical and cultural context?

To discuss these issues, we’ve invited Sahar Afshar, Maha Akl, and Mohamed Gaber. The panel will be co-moderated by Futuress and Imad Gebrayel himself.

Sahar Afshar (she/her) is a type designer and researcher from Iran. Her interest in typography during her years as a student at the University of Tehran led her to undertake research in typography and print history as part of her MA and PhD studies at the University of Reading and Birmingham City University, respectively. She is currently based in London, where she works as a font developer and printing historian. As a member of the Centre for Print History and Culture, she helps manage events and publications with a focus on printing various writing systems of the world.

Maha Akl (she/her) is an award-winning designer based in Cairo, Egypt. Her practice is guided as well as inspired by the vast, diverse Arab and Islamic visual heritage and the natural world. Trying to bridge her two interests, her work explores how type design and illustration can enrich one another and respond to today’s needs—a process that is best displayed in her debut typeface Hudhud, which is originally made to respond to the need for a friendly Arabic typeface to work in harmony with organic hand-drawn illustrations. Maha earned her BFA in graphic design from VCUarts Qatar in 2016.

Mohamed Gaber (he/him) is a type designer and artist based in Cairo. His primary interest lies in the haptic nature of type production and its technological, philosophical, and historical aspects. He holds a Master’s in design from Sandberg Instituut (Amsterdam). He founded Kief Type Foundry, a type foundry specializing in open-source Arabic fonts, TypePlatform, a research space for under-represented writing systems focusing on Arabic script, and co-founded TypeLab at Sandberg Instituut. His type design work is featured on Google fonts, and his artworks were exhibited in DDW (UAE), CTM 2020 (Germany), MK&G-Hamburg (Germany), Mediamatic (Netherlands), and VCU (Qatar).


This event is possible thanks to a generous grant from ProHelvetia.