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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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!