Egyptian designer whose work went viral says Arabic is “part of who we are”

Mahmoud Tammam’s illustrations took the Arab world by storm and are making us re-think how Arabic should exist in the modern world

Illustration by Mahmoud Tammam

By Maan Jalal

Culture 1 April 2019

All of us who speak and/or write Arabic (not matter how good or bad we are at it) know that the Arabic language is beautiful in more ways than one. The layered meaning of words, the nuance of sound and the aesthetic beauty of the script itself.

It’s also a hard language to master.

Whether visually, phonetically or understanding the meaning of some of the most basic words, many Arab speakers still struggle. Which is why the work of Egyptian graphic designer Mahmoud El Sayed went viral.

“Yes, I was surprised that my work went viral. Especially that the project was originally published a year before it went viral. I wasn’t expecting this at all,” Mahmoud told The Arab Edition.

Combining aesthetics and education, Mahmoud was one of the first to take illustration and word manipulation within the context of the Arabic language to a whole new level. Creating illustrations based on the literal meanings of specific Arabic words, Mahmoud’s work has connected with many Arabs across the world.

“The concept isn’t new there are many designers who have done the same, like Shao Lan and Ji Lee, so I just tried to do the same with my own language as a personal challenge,” he said.

Despite each image looking effortless designed, combining word, meaning and image flawlessly, it took Mahmoud more than you would assume to complete each image. He said:

“Depending on the word complexity, for me, the design is never finished. I keep editing it as long I have time, but you just have to stop at some point.”

Mahmoud’s series of images that captured the Arab world’s attention, made the Arabic language look fun and playful. It’s surprising that despite how far modern technology has come over the last few decades, Arabic is still trying to navigate its place both online and in vernacular of younger generations and to be viewed as a “modern” way to communicate.

“I think the problem is the availability of resources,” Mahmoud said. “I can find thousands of articles and resources on modern types, typography, history etc… but I can hardly find resources on Arabic calligraphy/ typography. For example, I found a few book recommendations about Arabic calligraphy but I couldn’t find a way to access or buy them, and almost all of those books were from decades ago.”

When asked why it’s important for us to find new ways to teach and express Arabic script when it might it be easier to communicate in English, Mahmoud like his designs, kept his answer pretty simple and perfect.

“It’s part of who we are.”

Check out Mahmoud’s latest illustrations below and let us know what you think.

Lion

Crocodile

Snake

Cat

Lighthouse

Warrior

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