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© 2019 Soulaf Khalifeh

Bring Arabic Back Home

Crowdfunding Campaign

to fund my studies through Arabic calligraphy

My passion for Arabic letters is taking me to INSEAD business school in January 2020.

Having been awarded a partial scholarship by the school, I am now more motivated to secure the remaining cost of attendance.

But I can only do so with your help, by supporting this campaign and the beautiful art of Arabic calligraphy.

What does ‘Arabic’ mean to me?

I have been looking into art and design as an expression of cultural identity since I was a design student, learning about art history and artists whose vision shaped the world we live in today. When I looked closely at the Arab world’s artistic contribution, I found one uniquely dominant element: calligraphy. 

This finding sparked my interest in letters, in their forms and proportions as well as their connection to who we are. 

If art is an expression of our cultural identity, and if calligraphy is the hallmark of our artistic tradition, are Arabic letters then the closest visual representation of who we are? If so, how are we using them today to express our identity? 

How does Arabic Typography measure up to Arabic Calligraphy?

Today, the level of support for Arabic in digital communication is substandard in comparison to other languages. Specifically, only a limited number of Arabic fonts exist commercially, often unpolished or even missing characters. 

Arabic font designers have been struggling to preserve and update the form of the language, especially as the technology has been changing faster than the ability to adapt to it. Add to this problem the pressure for Arab corporations to compete in a global market; a race that has been compromising our cultural identity for the sake of modernity. As a result, designers are left with little room to creatively experiment with ways in which letters can reflect our contemporary identity and diversity as Arabs.

My journey with Arabic Calligraphy and Type Design

2009 - 2012

As a graphic designer, I used calligraphy to compensate for the scarcity of Arabic fonts. Even though my isolated efforts failed to address the broader underlying problem, they led me to the UK, where there is a strong type design community that helped me explore the issue from both theoretical and practical perspectives.

2013 - 2017

As a type designer, I continued to deepen my understanding of the field from both historical and technological perspectives. I took a Codicology and Palaeography course at the University of Cambridge to study the history of Arabic manuscripts and the writing system, as well as a coding course at General Assembly. I also spent a month at DecoType in Amsterdam learning about their trademark font technology for connected scripts.

2018 - 2019

Through these experiences, I understood that I was missing a crucial perspective: economic. The problem with the current state of Arabic digital communication is not a lack of research, skills nor technological resources. Rather, it is a lack of profitable and sustainable business and licensing models that govern the design, production and distribution of fonts for emerging markets, especially on the web. This issue is taken for granted but there are many language communities that are under-represented in the digital space because they cannot afford to digitally recreate their languages on their own.

2020

My Next Stop: MBA

During my ten months at INSEAD, I will learn about designing and refining business models for the creative industries in emerging markets. My goal is to develop the skills needed to profitably run creative digital initiatives, from retail font libraries to website builders to educational platforms, that are tailored to our language and culture. This move, I believe, will bring me a giant step closer to my vision: an Arabic type foundry serving the communication needs of the Arabic-scripted world and headquartered in an Arab country, so that we wouldn’t have to go abroad to look for Arabic. 

In other words, my vision is to bring Arabic back home.

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