Apr 26 2011

Book Blog: Arabic Graffiti

by Sahar Baharloo

In this week’s entry for the Book Blog, we look at Arabic Graffiti by Pascal Zoghbi and Don Karl. At first thumb-through, I had a feeling that this book was by a graphic designer, and I was right. Zoghbi is a graphic designer and typographer based in Beirut, Lebanon. In this book, he has compiled beautiful images from across the globe and essays from calligraphers, graffiti artists, designers, photographers and even an anthropologist.  

Arabic Graffiti by Pascal Zoghbi and Don Karl.

At first I thought that Arabic Graffiti was given the wrong title—believing its main subject was typography—since the book starts with the centuries-old history of the Arabic written language and ends with contemporary and creative uses of type in Arabic and Farsi. However, as I leafed through, I realized that my initial impressions were wrong. A huge, if not the most important, theme in this book is the relationship between street graffiti and the more polished, “professional” graphic design.

Examples of Arabic calligraphy. 

Contemporary arabic fonts created by the book’s author Pascal Zoghbi. 

I especially enjoyed the section on messages painted on the backs of trucks. The graffiti on trucks started out as good luck charms, and as a way to ward off the “Evil Eye,” and now is also used as a means of self-expression for the driver. My favorite messages from the ones featured in the book are “Pretty Girl: love a poor genius but don’t love a truck driver” and “Don’t let me curse by my mustaches.” 

Cargo trucks in Lebanon. 

Zoghbi, Karl and the other writers address the political nature of graffiti, especially in the sections on Palestinian, Bahraini and Lebanese graffiti. Some of the photographs taken in Beirut look like they could be found on the rooftops of Brooklyn.

The graffiti-covered walls of Beirut. 

I commend Zoghbi and Karl for finding artists from all over the world. One can see graffiti written in Arabic in places as far from each other as Toronto and Bali. I found the sections dedicated on graffiti in France and other European countries to be particularly interesting, especially in light of recent controversies surrounding the display of Arabic and Middle Eastern culture in these Western regions, such as France’s decision to prohibit women from wearing full veils in public, and Switzerland’s ban against any future minarets from being built in the country. 

I will leave you now with three beautiful spreads of different ways of using expressive type in Arabic. 

Calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy, which translates to: “Fear is what is imagined by man and security is what is deemed secure by him.” 

Murals in Montreal by EL SEED

Magazine covers by Muiz Anwar. 

If you are interested in ordering this book, you can contact the Berlin-based publisher From Here to Fame

Book Blog is a weekly showcase of book design from ArtAsiaPacific’s areas of coverage and is written by AAP’s designer, Sahar Baharloo. All images were taken by our photo editor, Alis Atwell. 

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