Multilingual typography as cultural diplomacy. Intercultural collaboration through design.

Short read, Talk

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

Is it possible to do intercultural diplomacy with typography?

Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, who has created the Khatt foundation, thinks so. She explained last night at The Mosaic Rooms how the Typographic Matchmatking Projects (TMM) work.

Fedra Arabic and Latin Font

Fedra Arabic and Latin Font

Teams of typographs from different backgrounds worked together on projects requiring scripts in different languages, for instance in public spaces and cities. The TMM want to create dialogue between typographs but also and most of all between scripts. Having dissimilar scripts can give the idea that messages are dissimilar too:

Matching the scripts on public signs, for instance, show that the same message is conveyed:

Typographs familiar with the Latin alphabet but with little knowledge of the Arabic script had to understand it, its possibilities. Doing this pushed them to understand Arabic culture at the same time. Some of the questions designers asked themselves were:

  • should we use the writing tool as a starting point, as it will provoke a common gesture?
  • when was this Arabic/Latin script invented? are there Arabic/Latin scripts that were invented at the time?

The next TMM, in Morocco, illustrates the idea very well:

From top to bottom, left to right: A collage of images by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, Kristyan Sarkis, Juan Luis Blanco, Salah Bellizi, and Laura Meseguer.

From top to bottom, left to right: A collage of images by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, Kristyan Sarkis, Juan Luis Blanco, Salah Bellizi, and Laura Meseguer.

It “will research and develop tri-script font families that combine Arabic, Tifinagh and Latin scripts harmoniously”. It is political: the Tifinagh script is used by the Berbers or Amazighs, who have been ostracised in North Africa. The Latin script, explained AbiFares, will take inspiration from Spanish scripts, to show the exchange between Morocco and Spain since the middle-ages. Therefore, bringing them together is an attempt at making these cultures collaborate and coexist in harmony, and as equals. 

Type design evolves and becomes obsolete very quickly, but as AbiFares states:

Having a book is important, because even though it’s not valid anymore, it is a historical document, and what we lack in the Arab world are historical documents.


The Khatt Foundation website also hosts a collaborative platform for type designers. This talk was part of a series of events around the exhibition Tracing Landscapes by artist Dia Batal, from 09.09 to the 27.09 at the Mosaic Rooms.

The Khatt Foundation was founded in 2004 in Amsterdam. The goals of the foundation are: build cross-cultural creative networks, provide a platform for dialogue and design research, support and initiate cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary collaboration, publish critical writing and establish a knowledge centre on contemporary design from the MENA region.

The Mosaic Rooms

Free Admission
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-6pm
A.M. Qattan Foundation
Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road
London SW5 0SW | | Twitter @themosaicrooms |

T. 020 7370 9990

Nearest tube: Earl’s Court

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s