Schrift ist Mate­ri­a­li­sierung des Geistes. Typo­grafie ist Orga­ni­sation der Schrift.
Jan Tschichold

München e. V.

Elsenheimerstraße 48
80687 München

089.7 14 73 33


Cairo – Navigating Communities

Ahmed Mansour
20. November 2016
From October 28 to 29, the inter­na­tional Granshan Conference 2016 took place in Cairo under the auspices of the American University Cairo (AUC) and organized by Kochan & Partner and the Bibliotheca Alex­andrina Calli­graphy Centre. It was preceded by two days of workshops.
Ausstellung in der Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Handschrift aus dem 13. Jahrhundert mit einer Lobpreisung des Propheten Mohamed.
Exhibition in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina: 13th century manuscript with a eulogy of the Prophet Mohamed

Typo­graphers, designers, calli­graphers, historians of writing and scripts met for two days of intensive discussions and debates. In fact, this is the first time that the Granshan Conference has been held in Egypt. It was a good effort and an excellent idea of Haytham Nawar and Bahia Shehab to take the initiative to bring it to Cairo. It is also an oppor­tunity to bring local partners face to face with their coun­terparts from different countries and perspectives.

Granshan runs annually as a compe­tition for Type Design for non-Latin typefaces. Every year, the orga­nizing committee chooses a city to organize the compe­tition. Besides, a scholarly conference is organized to storm brain about the new visions, ideas, projects, updates on switching between design and original types. The conference is focused on the technical chal­lenges by the inte­gration of Non-Latin typefaces – and on writing systems like Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Indian and of course Armenian.

This year’s Granshan conference focused on sharing and learning about designing for atmo­s­pheres that respect complex social and personal cultural histories and respond to a world that is at once more inter­connected and more intimate. Granshan Cairo successfully navigated commu­nities to develop design culture and enterprise in a balance between local, regional and global. It also discussed how design can transform commu­nities, give focus to busi­nesses and underpin regional iden­tities.

The conference sessions were each dedicated to a theme exploring a particular area of research. The opening session was dedicated to disco­vering and tracing the evolution of the Arabic script either histo­rically, paleo­gra­phically or visually. Prof. Kamal Mansour, with his 20 years at Monotype and his invol­vement in the many chal­lenges of typo­graphy and typeface deve­lopment for many languages, took us on a long journey with the Arabic typeface. Prof. Mansour gave a workshop on encoding the Arabic language into the Unicode standard. He explained how OpenType is used as an inter­na­tional standard that provides all the necessary building blocks for the visual repre­sen­tation of different styles of Arabic script.

Then, an impressive contri­bution was dedicated to hear more about the new trends of learning Arabic script and calli­graphy in different countries such as Lebanon and Morocco.

The revival of Arabic script on different media was an important case to be raised in this meeting. For example: shop signs, airport signs, road signs, … reflected the importance of Arabic typo­graphy. The bilingual (Arabic-English) typo­graphic appli­cations in terms of font selection, treatment, hierarchy, layout, and reading direction, within the context of print, should be examined. The combi­nation of both scripts in a single publi­cation, and high­lights the active role of the designer in deter­mining the rela­ti­onship between these two scripts that represent two different languages (and cultures). This was made clear in the Converse Between Two Worlds presen­tation, which showed a short film about crossing typo­graphic boun­daries and how inno­vation can emerge from these chal­lenging inter­sections.

In the same frame, Bahia Shehab showed us the real history of oppo­sition in Arab society by tracing the history of »Lam-Alif«, which means »No«. This word was written in different forms and designs to express disa­greement with the general policies of the state. Shehab collected different examples from different historical periods.

Gradually, the conference began to show its identity. Speakers were more focused on showing their attempts to develop and sail through different commu­nities and envi­ronments. Yara Khoury discussed in detail Nasri Khattar’s attempts to unify the Arabic type as a reform concept in the 1940s. Yara also organized a workshop on 3D Arabic type. Parti­cipants learned about the main para­meters that define the Arabic script and letterforms, and played around with them to see the different results that can be generated from 2D to 3D.

Meanwhile, Ali el-Masry told the story of his typeface, which has its own history, a name, an inspi­ration, an ambition, and a series of trials and errors it has gone through.

Starting from the second half of the second day of the conference, impe­rative debates came to light. Edik Ghabuzyan presented a historical overview of the Armenian script and printing. The passion for the Armenian script is intrinsic to the Armenian culture.

In an inno­vative inter­action, Haytham Nawar inter­viewed Thomas Milo on Qur’anic and biblical publi­cations to witness a compre­hensive elabo­ration on the comparison between calli­graphy and typo­graphy. Milo’s presen­tation on the history of Qur’anic printing in the modern era was very rich.

The limited use of typefaces came to light, such as Coptic and Tifinagh. It’s an ancient North African writing system and script. Its alphabet is offi­cially reco­gnized by IRCAM Morocco and adopted by the Libyan Minister of Education. Madgis Madi showed its artistic use as well as its everyday use in worldwide logos and trademarks. On the other hand, Romany Hafez explored the origins of the Coptic script and its current use in Egyptian society. However, he regretted the absence of a Coptic font that attracts designers. Hafez suggested that the Coptic script be included in the Granshan compe­tition.

Finally, Ahmed Mansour, Deputy Director of the Bibliotheca Alex­andrina Calli­graphy Center, presented an important project on »The Journey of Writing in Egypt«. It is a long-term academic project that aims to research, document, and then preserve writing in Egypt from the proto­dy­nastic period to the modern era. In addition, Mansour shed light on the importance of ancient writings in docu­menting the lives of foreign commu­nities living in Egypt. He added an important note that these scripts could inspire typo­graphers to design new typefaces from the different alphabets found in Egypt throughout its history.

Führung durch die Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Guided tour of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

It is worth mentioning that the parti­cipants paid a visit to the Bibliotheca Alex­andrina to visit the Bulaq Press Museum, which was esta­blished about 10 years ago to tell the story of the first government printing press in Egypt.

In conclusion, Granshan Cairo is actually an enthu­siastic gathering of calli­graphers, type designers, specialists in the history of writing, developers and programmers to meet, discuss and debate on the best solution to reform the scripts in typo­graphy. This assembly could bring together the local partners from Egypt AUC and Bibliotheca Alex­andrina Calli­graphy Centre together with inter­na­tional partners: Armenian Ministry of Culture, Kochan & Partner and Monotype, … etc.

Granshan 2016
  • Als Gastautor fasste Dr. Ahmed Mansour die Ergebnisse der Konferenz für uns zusammen. Er ist stellvertretender Direktor des Bibliotheca Alexandrina Calligraphy Centre. Seine Forschungsschwerpunkte sind die arabische Schrift- und Druckgeschichte. Zusammen mit Dr. Khaled Azab hat er das Buch »The Bulaq Press« über die erste staatliche Druckerei Ägyptens und ihren Einfluss auf die gesellschaftliche Entwicklung veröffentlicht.

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