Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Arabic in Graphic Design: Rethink Bias

We recently came across a series of three Arabic-language posters that impressed us both with their simplicity and their powerful message. The ads, shown below, feature striking and visceral Arabic calligraphy (read from right to left) written across yellowed vellum. The immediate impression is of ancient tracts – Western stereotypical concepts of violent Islamic texts. But in small print beneath the fuṣḥā, English translations reveal the benign -- even silly -- nature of the menacing Arabic text.

The ad series appears, and reads:

"Paper or Plastic"
What did you think it said?

"Rock, Paper, Scissors"
Misunderstanding can make anything scary.
(According to my own translation, the poster more accurately reads "Rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock.")

"I'm a Little Tea Cup..."
We fear what we don't understand

The Martin Agency (including art director Mark Brye, copywriter Cedric Giese , creative director Joe Alexander, and calligrapher Saba Abad) created the ad campaign for the Richmond-based non-profit A More Perfect Union. The mission of A More Perfect Union is to increase respect and understanding between religious and ethnic majorities and their Muslim, South Asian, and Arab counterparts in Virginia.

As of this writing, A More Perfect Union is running these posters as a public service campaign on over 170 buses in the Richmond area in the hope that the public service ads with provoke a conversation about people fears and hopes. As their website claims: "Even negative comments can be a starting point for discussion and growth. Love your neighbor pre-emptively."

And the campaign appears to be working. Bus campaign feedback posted on RethinkBias.org runs the gamut from complimentary ("Congratulations on your brilliant Arabic sign campaign!") to cynical ("Interesting idea. How do I know what the signs really say?") to thoughtful ("I have never thought that some of them may not want to hurt us") to hateful ("There is no hope of peace on earth as long as islm [sic] exists....period").

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