Ruh Al-Alam is breathing new life into design with age-old calligraphy
- 04 November 2018
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London-based artist, designer, Arabic calligrapher and typographer Ruh Al-Alam took home the award in the Islamic Arts category at the annual Islamic Economy Awards in Dubai last week.
“I feel surprised and excited at the same time,” Ruh told My Salaam after receiving the award from his Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, at the Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES) 2018.
“The award will give us more recognition,” Ruh said, “and hopefully we can leverage that to get more and more organisations and brands to look at what they are doing: Are they communicating in the right way, or falling behind while staying true to tradition?”
Ruh studied graphic design with a focus on illustration and film at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. He is also trained in traditional Arabic calligraphy, the culmination of a lifelong dream to learn this traditional art of penmanship, which he has pursued in Egypt since 2003. Bringing a contemporary touch to the art, he has become well-known for developing his own range of Arabic scripts and typefaces.
Using the script as a design element, Ruh infuses the contemporary with the age-old calligraphy in his projects, whether it is a hijab collection, logo or branding. He said that he is especially confident about the growth potential of Islamic branding in the Middle East.
“We are talking with the Dubai government and with many other private companies,” he said. “They want experts who know Arabic, Arabic typography and design rather than just going to anybody who may or may not stay true to the heritage of Arabic tradition or Arabic design.”
A fine eye for detail is vital for Arabic calligraphy, which has strict, complex requirements in design and alphabet that have been established by masters over years of practice. “It’s quite an important thing because you see mistakes all over the place. You have poorly crafted design, typography and calligraphy [being] done by people who have not learnt the tradition and can’t stay true to it.”
Ruh serves the Middle Eastern, Muslim and halal markets through his venture, Archetype. “Our specialisation in Arabic allows us to be unique. We are now being noticed by mainstream brands, who would like help in adapting their businesses and brands for entry into the Middle East market.”
The current focus, he said, is on developing Islamic art for a modern context through contemporary design styles, creating a contemporary branding that applies to Muslim cultures across the globe. “Islamic branding is very much in demand because consumers are aware of design and other aspects of branding. They appreciate calligraphy and Islamic art.”
He continued: “For most major brands and organisations, it is important to understand the designs they put out and understand the artistic culture and heritage of Muslims. This is where we step in and help them bridge that gap.”
Ruh said that a number of Shariah-compliant companies are using contemporary Arabic design, calligraphy and typography as a branding tool. “You have modern, digital banks that are Shariah-compliant […] how do you communicate this to a modern, tech-savvy, Apple-wearing global citizen? They need products that fit their lifestyle. You buy an Apple product because you like the design, you like the message, you like the aesthetics. Likewise, the Muslim community and brands need to do the same thing.”
Ruh believes the market for calligraphy could run into “millions” as Islamic art and designs become popular worldwide. “It’s difficult to put a number on it; you are talking about hundreds or thousands of pounds spent by almost every brand and every organisation on these sorts of endeavours to make sure their branding and design is on point and communicating what it is supposed to.”
(Editing by Seban Scaria email@example.com)
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