Inner Structures – Outer Rhythms

Contemporary Arab and Persian Graphic Design

Author: Greta Landmann

The exhibition Inner Structures – Outer Rhythms: Contemporary Arab and Persian Graphic Design at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MK&G) showcases current developments in Arabic and Persian typography. On view are posters, videos, animated films, murals, installations, books and typefaces by 33 designers and studios from South-West Asia and North Africa (SWANA), as well as the diaspora. 

The exhibition demonstrates how currents in Arabic and Persian graphic design are of equal relevance, providing mutual inspiration and contributing significantly to the global design discourse. 

The springboard for the show is the idea that the 28 Arabic characters and the 32 Persian letters derived from them form an inner structure that ties them together as related scripts. At the same time, they follow an external rhythm that is shaped by music, poetry, cultural dynamics, and the force of political movements. Despite religious, linguistic, ethnic, political and social differences in the SWANA region, the Arabic, and Persian writing systems serve as unifying elements across national borders.

The tension between structure and rhythm unfolds in four design themes. Contrasting current graphics with classical Islamic calligraphy, which adheres to strict rules, the theme Beyond Calligraphy looks at works that probe the limits of Arabic and Persian script by devising unconventional lettering. While rooted in local aesthetics and traditions, these designs are also inspired by typography, abstraction, spatial illusion, and minimalism. Lara Assouad, for example, develops modular characters that draw on geometry and early Arabic calligraphy. Graphic and type designer Tawfiq Dawi (Hey Porter!) is likewise renegotiating the relationship between calligraphy and typography as part of his 1000-Poster Project (2017–20). His work displays an innovative mix of calligraphy, typography, and imagery. 

The theme Design for Culture and Art introduces designers and studios that are helping to shape the vibrant arts and culture scene in the SWANA region. Works such as posters and books by Studio Kargah in Tehran, Studio Safar in Beirut, and Kemistry Design in Dubai serve in the global design discourse as visual ambassadors of the local scene.

The exhibition also offers a reading room with magazines and reference books, inviting visitors to delve into the relevant research on the history of Arab and Persian graphic design. 

Inner Structures – Outer Rhythms: Contemporary Arab and Persian Graphic Design
When? Friday, 26th April, 2024 to Tuesday, 22nd April, 2025 


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