The digital archive preserving the declining art of Egyptian typography

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In Egypt, where there are streets, roads and passages, there are signs, posters and billboards dating back decades, even centuries, each reflecting their own era of styles, tastes and contexts. It’s a beautiful mess of typography that often gets lost over time, and the Egyptian Type Archive was born to capture and encapsulate it for good.

The founders, Toka Assal and Abdo Mohamed, met online and bonded over their shared interest in street typography, drawing inspiration from their travels to cities across Egypt, from Aswan to Minya and Port. – Said. As graphic designers and typographic artists, they decided to share their most inspiring street finds with everyone on the internet – and launched an online platform for everyone to share as well.

“When we started we didn’t even have a logo, we just used a picture I took of text on a microbus that said ‘Semsem’ and ‘Semsema’,” Mohamed told CairoScene. “We found out later that those were the names of the owners of the bus, a brother and a sister. Although we know it’s not professionally designed, the text really looked like it did. But now everything is digital and fast, so we lose the art and skill of typography and calligraphy.

Exclusively focused on Arabic street typography in Egypt, the Egyptian Type Archive has amassed a loyal community on Instagram. They collectively document every text they come across, from the quirky to the horrible to the beautiful, whether it’s an old sign on a vintage shop or an ad sprayed on the walls of a restaurant. a local cafe.

“My favorite finds are the food carts, their typography has a very distinct style embodying the essence of street art,” shares Asal. “It’s also very instinctive with the written text approaching hasad or rizq.” Here, Asal refers to written prayers or phrases traditionally used to ward off the evil eye or invite God’s blessing – a visual manifestation of deeply held beliefs and spirituality.

Mohamed and Asal’s take on what constitutes art or the nature of street typography challenges notions of “professionalism”, where they treat each sign and piece as a story in itself. Initially, they wanted to document the names of calligraphers until they discovered that – more often than not – the text is created to order, so artists do not normally sign their names under their work.

Although strangers on the street often stare at them in confusion when they see them taking photos of manhole covers or old movie posters, the founders believe their documentation is useful to typographers, designers and Egyptians in general. Through their work and the work of their nascent community, they are preserving a dying visual culture and ensuring its survival for the next generation of Egyptian creators.

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