Abboudi Abou Jaoudé and the Forgotten Era of Arab Cinema

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My recent patronage to Metro al Madina to see shows like Hishik Bishik and Bar Farouk has made me curious about the Lebanese history of entertainment. With Mounia Akl making it to Cannes, Nadine Labaki being a voice for our city, and Fayrouz being my morning muse – ever since that first taste of early Arab cinema at a British exhibit years ago, I wanted to learn more about this era but also see the beauty that was premature Arab graphic design.

A random Google search brought me to an Independent article from 2010 that talked about a man with an astounding collection of Lebanese (and other Arab) film posters. The investigation wasn’t fruitful; I couldn’t find out where this mysterious movie man was six years later.  No Facebook page, no Instagram, no pixelated website with an 8-bit mouse cursor shaped like an Aladdin’s lamp. Yes, that’s what I imagined for an off-the-grid poster hoarder.

Then after one Iftar with my old advertising friends, I’d asked the production peeps if they had heard of this Abboudi. I got his phone number and was told that he was operating out of a space at the end of Hamra. A few phone calls and a scavenger hunt led me to AlFurat Publishing & Distribution, an underground warehouse that smells of old paper, hidden behind a black iron door. Abboudi welcomed us in and immediately pointed to a row of large individually wrapped posters. “All originals,” he said. Apparently he’d been collecting them for some 40 years, jacking them off the walls of the theatres in the city.

 

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Roaming the shelves of yellowing pages, my immediate thought was, “I’ve found the Lebanese cemetery of forgotten books.” In his back room, you can go through the digitized archive of his collection while sitting among legends like Fayrouz, Souad Husni, Abdel Halim, Sabah, and Rushdi Abaza.

 

 

There are racks of A0s and stacks of the thinnest fragile prints, some for sale starting from as little as $10 and reaching $500. When I asked if he’s afraid he’ll run out by selling them, he said, “No no, I’ve got plenty. These are multiples.” To which I think, “damn Boudi, you sly fox, you really cleaned up.” And the meticulous care this friendly man put into preserving these pieces. Chapeau freaking bas.

 

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Only after my visit did I connect the dots and find that Abboudi’s collection was documented in a publication called “Hathal Masa’” (Tonight in Arabic), designed by the wonderfully elegant Studio Safar. So if you can’t choose one of Abboudi’s originals, you can always go for the full book instead. It’s sold at Antoine branches and the Sursock Museum Store. Although an exhibition was held last December at Le Yacht Club for the launch of the book, Abboudi’s collection deserves a museum of its own. Being in a storage room under a building has its appeal but I worry for their long-term conservation.

 

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But let me tell you, having one of these babies in your possession makes you understand what made Abboudi camp out at the Piccadilly as a young man. Just look at that magic?

If you’re interested in visiting AlFurat, shoot me an email and I’ll pass on his contact. Otherwise, you can try your luck and pass by whenever you’re free and need a dose of nostalgic tangible culture. Abboudi’s collection also includes old books and magazines. He’s open 9-5pm. Read more about him here.

 

DIRECTIONS: Continue along main Hamra St all the way to the end. Take a right at the fork after Bendakji cafe (driving parallel to Diabco Stationery and the gas station). Continue straight until the intersection. Touch store should be in your face. Take a right up toward Bliss St. Take another right before reaching Bliss and the fork with the tree in the middle (so you’re on the road that leads to Fakhani, Hussein’s Parking, Socrate, etc). And a final right into a small alley before you continue down the road. There’s a sign but it’s barely visible. Go all the way to the building at the end (same one that’s home to Inaash). Abboudi’s warehouse is at the bottom of the driveway below.
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Bambi Recommends: Alphonse Mucha at the Vittoriano

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In the days of Wacom tablets and Apple pencils, we have forgotten the beauty of creating with our hands. Since April 2016, the Vittoriano complex in Rome has hosted the Alphonse Mucha exhibit curated by Tomoko Sato. Featuring an extensive collection of the Czech artists work, it is an impressive spectacle of the artist/graphic designer’s development as a visual communicator. Sometimes referred to as the “father of Art Nouveau,” Mucha’s work has recognizable trademarks that have made him a favorite among GD students worldwide: whimsical handlettering, floral ornamentation, and an appreciation for luscious locks. By looking at his work you will understand why “Farrah, you have Mucha hair” was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

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The exhibition has sketches showing Mucha’s process as well as the dissection of each communicative piece – the context of the female heroine that he depicts as a goddess with gorgeous hair and effortless attractive appeal. As most creatives would agree, the process is more interesting than the final product and the sheer size of the work is always shocking when witnessed in person. After creating a poster for Gismonda, Sarah Bernhardt signed a contract with him for 6 years – he was that good. His posters are the envy of the designers who slave away on Illustrator trying to emulate that same fervor using the pen tool and anchor points.

The exhibition will be on until September 11th, 2016 and costs 13 E (or 17 E if you go to the Barbie exhibit too) for students.

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Italian Vernacular Typography in Rome with Louise Fili

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Louise speaks with owner of Ristorante Settimo about their signage from the 1960s

“Fare la coda” or the inability to stand in line is not the only thing that Rome and Beirut have in common. Much like my own home city, Rome has a tangible warmth to it and I’m not just talking about the temperature. There is history here that can be seen in the ochre tones of the buildings, heard in the undulations of the language, and even tasted in every scoop of black raspberry gelato. When it comes to design, it’s as if things look the way they’re supposed to without much thought put into it. As our first lecturer, Louise Fili, said, “in Italy, everything is beautifully designed even though no one is a designer.”

She walks us through 35 years worth of her carefully curated collection of signage. Not only is Italy the birthplace of Latin typography, it seems it’s also where every sign has a lineage. Rather than reading a plaque or pocketbook guide, each sign forms a graphic timeline because the style of type used corresponds to a particular historic era. Leave it to graphic designers to learn about history via type, right?

But oddly enough, it works. Not only does Louise tell us about each sign’s historical significance but also how the style of signage can tell you what part of Italy you’re in. It seems that each part – be it Florence, Bolognia, Rome, or Torino – has its own flavor and trademark when it comes to their storefronts.

What I find most interesting is the businesses that the signs represent tend to belong to a family that has been in that business for generations. The symbol becomes representative of part of their legacy, not just indicative of what they’re selling thus becoming a visual landmark in that neighborhood’s collective memory. It reminds you that there’s a story behind every sign and all you have to do to find out more is walk through the doorway underneath it.

First published on SVA’s website.

Interning with Tarek Atrissi | The Art & Science of Arabic in Barcelona

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Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

It’s been exactly 3 months since I left Barcelona where I spent another 3 months interning for Tarek Atrissi, a Lebanese graphic designer who runs his own design studio out of the Catalonian city after relocating from the colder Hilversum, the Netherlands.

I’ve written a lot about what I did to prepare for this trip and what I learned on a personal level while there but I thought it would be helpful to see what I got out of this trip from a professional standpoint as a designer from and working in the Arab world. The environment of Barcelona seemed like an unconventional backdrop for learning about Arabic type & script but it made one thing more evident: capable designers with a background in Arabic design are needed, regardless of location.

Lesson 1: The Difference between Arabic Typography, Lettering, and Calligraphy

As an introduction, Tarek walked me through a breakdown of different uses of the Arabic language in design. Typography refers to creating typefaces or designing a print layout using Arabic text. Lettering is when Arabic letters or words are built by drawing them out piece by piece. The focus would be on one element as an artistic composition or unit instead of an entire alphabet or page of text. Calligraphy is an old artform that takes years to reach the pro level. If there’s no time to learn the trade, this is usually outsourced if you want it done right.

Lesson 2: Making Arabic Versions of Logos

A skill highly underrated and glossed over when it comes to designing Latin logos is the ability to adapt them to Arabic while retaining their aesthetic and iconic attributes. A visit to Dubai will tell you how poor adaptations of your non-Arabic logo can hurt your brand’s image. It is hard enough to do from the start of a project but even more challenging when it comes after the logo is already in use and plastered all over the world. Icons or graphic elements become gimmicks or are forced into the Arabic script. Creating an Arabic version of a non-Arabic logo takes practice and understanding of both languages; not only how they are similar but how their differences will affect the visual outcome. Arabic differs from a lot of commonly used languages in many ways; two main concerns being that 1) the letters are connected (at times) and don’t align with non-Arabic glyphs because they adhere to different guidelines and have fluctuating proportions and 2) it’s read from right to left.

 

Lesson 3: Looking at Arabic Glyphs like Shapes, not Letters

During my GD undergrad years, a calligrapher who was giving us a workshop had told me that people who don’t know Arabic tend to be less constricted when sketching forms because they look at the letters like shapes. They have no linguistic knowledge of what the aleph is; it’s just a long line. I was reminded of this when drawing up endless versions of Arabic glyphs. When lettering, you have to let go of what you know of the defined structure of each letter – to a certain extent – in order to let your hand freely take over.

Lesson 4: The Importance of Arabic as a Language in Design

Coming from an advertising background, I rarely had the chance to dabble in typographic design, much less anything in Arabic since I worked on international accounts. Working on fonts and logotypes in Arabic made me realize how neglected it is as a skill in our part of the world. Sure, most Arab designers can read and write in Arabic but can they design in it? Do we have the understanding of it as a language to tackle it the way an Arab national should? This should be our added bonus as designers from the region: we should know how to work with our own language with respect – in a way that does it justice as a beautiful form of communication.

Lesson 5: Give More, Keep Less

What was surprising about Tarek was that he was so willing to give and teach. It is rare to find a successful professional who is open to mentoring you as a designer, in skill but also in thought-process. Tarek was never condescending in his approach when it came to finding solutions and he gave me the confidence I lacked when it came to discovering my strengths as a designer. He was leading by example and a true team player. He taught me to be open with what I know and even with what I don’t. And by constantly sharing and exchanging, there was a flow of stories and experience that brought fresh energy to the office each day.

You can learn more, the more you give away.

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A big thanks to Tarek and everyone at TAD.
See you guys soon!

“Dressing the Body” at Museu del Disseny de Barcelona

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“Dressing the Body” is a permanent exhibition at the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona (Design Museum of Barcelona). It’s about how people have manipulated their appearance via accessories, hairstyles, and clothing.

As someone who worked in advertising for luxury brands and hair care, a lot of our research went into desire, beauty, and self-image. Perhaps this is partially why I found this exhibition so fascinating. However, the other part of me, the science nerd, found it fascinating because it addressed how human behavior has shifted with fashion: how we react to arbitrary definitions of beauty and how our perception keeps changing over time. Our behavior has shaped how we view those around us, including ourselves. We are constantly modifying our bodies, whether it’s through padding, feathery hats, or tattoos.

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The exhibition is divided by the decades and the dominating trend of each era starting from the 16th century. It’s an eye-opener because you usually don’t think about how your clothes are also a device that you use to change your silhouette. There are 5 ways what you wear can affect your overall appearance:

  1. Increasing: adding volume to your body by inflating your lower body via structures like wooden hoop skirts or layered petticoats.
  2. Reducing: corsets and belts, anything that reduces or squeezes you into a certain mold.
  3. Elongating: adding height through heels, large hats/hairstyles, or long trains.
  4. Profiling: contouring the outline of your body through stockings or tight body hugging fabrics.
  5. Revealing: Self-explanatory. That skin tho.

    “If you alter the way the body comes across in the space around it then the body alters everything in the space that affects it.” – Hussein Chalayan, 2002

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Check out a sneak peek here. An appropriate part two of this would be an extensive cosmetic surgery exhibition over the decades. If you’re in Barcelona, visit the museum. This exhibition alone is worth the 5 Euro entrance or you can wait until Sundays when it’s free!

CaixaForum: From Cotton to Culture

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Like all major touristic cities, Barcelona’s got plenty of main attractions. The musts being Sagrada Familia, Guell, and a handful of cathedrals. I’m trying to get through the list while still attempting to discover the less commonly visited beauties.

Facing Mies van de Rohe’s German Pavilion in Montjuic is a medieval brick castle with two towers. This is CaixaForum, the cultural center of Barcelona. Although it houses exhibitions and an excellent bookshop, it used to be a textile factory in the early 1900s. Built in two years thanks to repetitive architectural patterns, the factory was dedicated to cotton production. The large windows, high ceilings, and separated pavilions helped with ventilation and created a large open workspace so workers didn’t feel trapped underground. Because it’s only made of brick and iron, there was also very little risk of fire. The flower bed skylights enabled fire brigades to reach any part of the factory but also doubled as a source of air and natural light. Besides light and space, it was the first factory to use electricity so there were no chimneys and, thus, no risk of respiratory diseases from coal and steam that previously powered looms.

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Casimir Casaramona, owner of the factory, commissioned Josep Puig i Cadafalch (pooji cadafalk), the same architect behind Casa Batllo’s overlooked neighbor, Casa-Museu Amatller. Batllo is by Gaudi who is to Catalan modernism what Beyonce was to Destiny’s Child. Imagine being in that kind of shadow posthumously.

Casa Amatller & Casa Batllo

Casa Amatller & Casa Batllo

Anyway, Cadafalch incorporated multiple elements of Catalan craftsmanship: glass-making, brick-laying, metalwork. The overall goal was to strengthen Catalan institutions and identity while adding a medieval twist and Gaudi’s trencadis technique (using broken glass). And one of Cadafalch’s signatures is the use of dragons, an emblem of the Kingdom of Aragon. You can find one over the door at the base of the Casaramona tower. Take that, Dany.

The factory closed in 1919 and was a police station for about half a century after that. As of today, it is an amalgam of Art Nouveau and industrial architecture because of the expansion on the existing structure. La Caixa Foundation, the charitable leg of La Caixa bank, stepped in to refurbish and create CaixaForum in 1997. Due to UNESCO Heritage Site rules, they were forced to expand the only way possible: by going underneath the building.

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Arata Isozaki, a Japanese architect, designed the white limestone entrance and the tree glass sculpture over the escalators that take you to the front door. The limestone allows for light to be reflected into the underbelly of the space. There’s also an abstract “garden” which is an empty rectangular room with water running under it so there’s a trickling water sound effect in a white box. It’s supposed to give the illusion that you’re in a garden. I’m not a fan of this kind of rationale when it comes to art – it makes me think Isozaki smoked all the grass that should’ve been in that garden.

Repurposing old buildings of architectural significance seems to be a theme in this city. They’ve managed to give a meaningful second life to many structures that are survivors of their historic past. There are some case where the same is happening back home but let’s hope for more past in the future.

BONUS FUN FACT: CaixaForum is located at the base of Montjuic between the trade fair precinct and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Both of which were designed by Cadafalch too. BOOM. Mic drop.

5 Handcrafted Valentine’s Day Gifts

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Yes, Valentine’s Day is commercial and you don’t need a day to appreciate the ones you love. But if you love someone, what’s the harm in having an excuse to celebrate it? I’m sure each couple has their own way of doing so and, perhaps, has agreed:

a) not to exchange gifts,
b) not to acknowledge this “holiday”
c) to stay in with DVDs & sushi

Nothing is wrong with opting for a sweet bouquet, a handful of Hershey’s Kisses, and an “I love you.” But for those of you who need some ideas, I put together a list of some unisex handcrafted items you could get here in Lebanon so you don’t have to resort to Amazon and fork over shipping fees, go to Pinterest and attempt a DIY project when you’re not the artsy type, or buy a generic fluffy heart-covered monstrosity from [insert gift shop chain name here].

If you want to get your special someone a present that is thoughtful and unique, go for the personalized and custom-made. And don’t forget to wrap it up nice because half the fun is the mystery and anticipation behind a wonderfully packaged surprise. Also, feel free to contact me for a Bambi’s Soapbox love card. I’m selling them at a discount: 5,000 LL each.

5. Creative Space Beirut/Second St

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Featured last month on the blog, these two brands have hand-stitched fashionable pieces done by fashion design students (Creative Space Beirut) and Sarah Hermez & Tracy Moussi (Second St). On top of getting some stylish clothing, the monies you invest in these pieces would go toward keeping a free design school running. They’re available at the Creative Space Beirut or Memory Lane, both in Mar Mikhael.

4. Crochet Friend from Rachel K

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I discovered Rachel at Afkart in December. She has a collection of fashion pieces too but what really caught my eye at her stand was her geeky handmade crochet buddies. From Karl Lagerfeld to Mario, these little guys go for $60 a piece. You can also request a personalized crocheted version of you (or your beau) but I’d refrain from gifting a voodoo-like doll to someone you love. Unless you’re into that. No judgment.

3. GGRIL Glass Goods

From GGRIL's Facebook page

From GGRIL’s Facebook page

It would be wrong to have a list of handcrafted items without including the work of Ziad Abi Chaker and GGRIL. Whether it’s a vase for the bouquet you just got or a lamp to set the mood for the evening, GGRIL has beautiful blown glass items that make great presents. Plus, they’re supporting a dying artisanal craft in Lebanon AND recycling old booze bottles. Sold at various cafes and stores: Dar Bistro & Books in Hamra, Vide-Posh in Badaro, Bayrut Express in Ashrafieh.

2. Madame Cefanie Leather Goods

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I saw this lady’s work at Brut l’Atelier while on the Mar Mikhael walking tour. There, you can purchase a wallet or purse of various colors OR you can contact Madame Cefanie to request a customized bag with size and color of your choice.

1. Baked Goods

Try to bake some cookies or their favorite dessert (given that it’s not soufflé or anything else that would have Gordon Ramsay yelling at you). Baking a sweet treat for your person puts all the tender, love, and care into the pan of fatty goodness you’re whipping up for them. Wrap it up with some nice wax paper and ribbon: instant personal gift! Make sure to use chocolate for the extra aphrodisiac effect. *wink wink*

And when all else fails, if none of the above works for your significant other, go for lingerie (remember what I said about a “wonderfully packaged surprise”?). Buy it for them to wear or wear some yourself: everyone wins.