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.

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!

What to Pack for a Design Internship Abroad

Besides the standard toothbrush and lots of undies, here’s a list of the top 15 things I’m bringing so I can let the art director in me go crazy in my new Mediterranean city that I shall call home for 3 months. Let me know if I’ve left anything out, I feel like I’ll be packing until midnight.

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A Medium Sized Notebook
I’m a fan of the ~A5 size because it fits in your purse and is good enough for notes, doodles and random thought bubbles. If the heavy duty Moleskines are too pricey for your taste (and frequent use of journals), Paper Concept is an affordable alternative that I’ve come to love. Their products are made in Lebanon. They’re pretty malleable too so they can handle being transported daily, getting soaked in coffee, or just beat up by life. I plan on covering this baby in Spain stickers.

3 A4 Sketchbooks
As a creative who’s on the job, you’re going to need to put your ideas somewhere. I prefer using the tangible approach: on paper. Going straight to the computer is restrictive when you want to let your mind go and allow your hands to take charge of the creative flow. Moleskine sells a pack of 3 skinny lightweight A4 notebooks (lined and blank) that are perfect for this purpose and they’re not too expensive considering what the brand’s usual price tags say. There are packs of solid or mixed colors for 27,000 LL (18 USD). I like that the covers are cardboard so it’s easy to personalize them. And once your internship is over, you have a hardcopy record of all the eggs you laid there, rotten or not.

Agenda
I ordered the I AM VERY BUSY 17-month agenda above from Paper Source. It’s imperative that you stay organized as a creative since most of your work, if not all, is deadline-based. It can be used to keep track of your multiple to-do lists, events coming up, groceries that need to be bought, and even when to do laundry. It also doubles as another record of everything you did on your trip and where you went.

Drawing Pencils, Winsor & Newton Watercolors Travel SetWashi Tapes, Glue, and Mini Scissors
Basically, you need supplies. It may be wishful thinking but it’s still a good idea to pack your preferred tools. Tape and glue are for the snippings, business cards, and other paper souvenirs that you’ll be sticking in your notebooks. Some will be for the memory of it and others will be for the design; either way, they could be references for inspiration at some point. Not included in the picture above is my collection of pens and colored pencils but just assume that I’m addicted to Sharpies. Btw, that UFO glue is a knock-off UHU from Karout.

Appropriate Literature
Since my internship is with a skilled typographer, I bought Type Matters! to use as a guide for my work and the Fodor’s Barcelona guidebook to use as my guide to the city. I’m also reading Cathedral of the Sea, a historical novel about Barcelona.

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Business Cards
You never know who you’ll meet abroad and you have to be prepared to network at all times. Nowadays, when people can work remotely, there are no borders to opportunities. I hope everyone likes receiving free olive oil soap!

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iPhone and Power Bank, Macbook Pro and Wacom Tablet, Laptop Bag
No explanation necessary for these. I mean really.

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Headphones, Earphones, DSLR Camera
The headphones will come in handy on your flights and while you’re working at home or in the office. The earphones have a different purpose: they’re useful for creating a protective forcefield when you’re using public transport. I don’t know if Barcelona’s metro is anything like NYC’s but I shy away from making friends on the subway. The camera is when you want to get artsy and take some decent shots that can be blown up into posters and other graphic artwork once you return.

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Cross-body Bag, Whistle Necklace, and Something That Reminds You of Home

Barcelona is famous for pickpockets so make sure your bag has a zipper that remains shut. This one is a leather purse that’s pretty sturdy despite the gnawed tears from my fiesty cat, Katniss. I don’t mind its weathered appearance since it’s got Mary Poppins magic: it’s a bottomless pit with multiple pockets. It may be left behind once I find a good Spanish leather replacement.

As a paranoid female traveling solo, I feel the need to equip myself with some form of security. I saw Tiffany & Co release a whistle necklace and thought that would be a great accessory that had a bonus protective function. I opted for the cheaper, less fashionable version.

DON’T FORGET: Something that reminds you of home. I chose the cedar keychain I got 3 years ago from Bcharre.

Will Blog for Apples

Courtesy of Gratisography

Courtesy of Gratisography


Next week, I’ll be flying to Barcelona, Spain for a 3-month design internship. Although temporary, this will be the first time I’m living on my own away from home.

First World Problem
My 5S needs upgrading. The only issue I had was its disintegrating battery life that has only gotten worse over time. Now, having a power bank has rectified the battery woes but the 13GB capacity is not enough for a typical smartphone user, let alone one who depends so heavily on documentation. I mean, how else am I going to show people my tie-dye laundry, ramen noodle buffet, or create a video montage of the various Spanish sausage flavors of La Boqueria? I mean G-rated sausage, you 12-year old.

I’ll admit that the larger screens of the new generations were a turn-off at first. Why would I want to use a phone that was the same size as my Moleskine? Then, I used one to cover an event and saw the beauty of having a phablet when it came to capturing an experience. It was much like the preference of using a 22-in iMac versus a 15-in MacBook Pro; a larger interface to command while maintaining ease of usability. Don’t get me wrong, my MacBook is currently at the doctor’s and it feels like my child is in Afghanistan but, as a designer, having a larger workspace is always better, just less convenient and more expensive. But being the size of a Moleskine suddenly made sense if you look at your phone for what it actually is: more than a thing you use to call your parents (let’s be honest, they’re the only people who still use phones primarily for calling). Your iPhone is your diary, without the doodled hearts and ripped pages that ruin the binding. It’s what you use to absorb your surroundings and share it with the ones who can’t be with you. 

You see, I’m considering a lot of new content (intense blogging, continuous fitness tracking, photography, and a webisode series) during this trip but I want a device that has the memory and hardware to keep up. That, and it’s plain snazzy.

Since this is an internship abroad, I have a lot of expenses to cover and a new shiny gadget like the 6 Plus with decent memory has a hefty price tag. I’m not able to drop that kind of cash nor do I have the moxie to ask for a little parental gifting. They’re already helping me out as it is and this little trans-mediterranean move is supposed to be my training wheels for how to be an adult, not a pampered failure to launch. Stop thinking about SJP and horses.

I’ve read reviews about the Samsung’s competing device but, knowing that I switch out phones every 2-3 years, I don’t imagine making that kind of commitment to a brand I haven’t clicked with in the past. We’re like me and Daniel Craig; I can appreciate him as a Bond who’s handsome and got all the right stuff but Pierce Brosnan is my man. I test-drove their product before but I couldn’t convert; I guess I’m Apple to the core. I’ve heard about the rumored 6S/S Plus release but I’d be completely fine with a 6 Plus joining me on the journey, I’ll even share my bed with it.

So…like…what do you say manzana gods?
Can you hook me up por favor?
I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Love you, kthxbye.

10 Signs You’re a Lebanese Designer

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Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

1. You frequent coffee shops based on their internet connection, not their coffee. That, and their interior decor. If you can pretend you’re in Brooklyn or Berlin, then you’re a loyal customer. This is why Urbanista is designer headquarters; it’s got the best wifi and if you stay there long enough, you’ll eventually feel like your #deskfortheday is across from Central Park on Lex.

2. The words “hipster” and “designer” are not interchangeable although you are the token-hipster amongst your non-designer friends. This has nothing to do with the fact that you like fedoras, plaid shirts, and craft beer. One pair of fruit socks does not a hipster you make. Okay maybe it does? But it’s not your fault H&M released a Coachella collection in Lebanon. You only shop there for basics anyway. And Balmain in November.

3. Papercup and Antoine Stationery are places you cannot visit if you are past the 20th of the month. If you do, you will not be eating until your next paycheck because you pulled a Carrie Bradshaw and bought a design biannual issue that costs $40. You don’t need another Moleskine notebook, a Rifle Paper Thank You card, or Choux a la Creme stickers. It’s best to stay away otherwise you’ll be caressing paper goods like you’re in a romcom sponsored by Fabriano.

4. If you identify yourself as an illustrator, you probably wear Converse. If you’re an art director, you have at least one pair of Nike AirMax. And if you’re a fashion designer, you probably own one pair of laced up brogues. If you’re just a creative in general, you have all three.

5. You use yamli.com to get words typed in Arabic.

6. As an undergrad, you interned at a top ad agency and you a) decided that that’s what you’ll do for a few years b) despised it and went to work in a boutique design firm in an old house in Gemmayzeh with high ceilings c) eventually left the country to do your Masters in Milan, Amsterdam, or the States

7. You’ve never bought original Adobe CS software (or any other software) because your university/office/Interlink installed it for you.

8. Your MacBook Pro had the price tag of a small used car. It is your child and if it were to ever get hurt, you would sit in the corner wondering which organ to sell to replace it.

9. Working on anything bilingual makes you go cross-eyed because Arabic and Latin have different rules when it comes to typography. Let’s not even mention the existence of trilingual briefs.

10. Your Teta still doesn’t know what you do. As far as she’s concerned, you’re a “drawing engineer” which got her approval because it means you studied هندسة. Thanks Yamli.