The arctic region of Northern Canada has been home to the Inuit for thousands of years before Europeans ever set foot there. During the 1950s the semi-nomadic Inuit were forcefully relocated from their hunting grounds to missionary schools to be ‘civilized’ leading to the many problems Inuit communities face today; a lack of employment, high suicide rates, and alcoholism. Which is why there was much protest when Ungava gin, a company with no Inuit staff, used Inuit culture to promote their alcoholic product in 2013 using the slogan ‘Discovering the Inuit’. Inuk artist Stephen Puskas pointed out inaccuracies in depicting Inuit culture and accused the brand of appropriating Inuit culture to sell alcoholic beverages, with blatant offensive imagery. Inuktitut syllabics, one of the orthographies used for Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit, are used as meaningless ornaments around the label. In the campaign faux-Inuktitut is used as a typeface. What’s interesting about the ornamental ‘exotic‘ use of Inuktitut syllabics, is that the orthography itself was developed by Christian missionaries in mid-19th century, but has since become part of the cultural heritage. Since the complaints, Ungava gin apologized and have taken the video and images offline.
On August 16, 2016, Zarah Sultana tweeted an image of a tote bag she saw in the Berlin subway that went immediately viral. The bag had Arabic type on it which said, ‘This text has no other purpose than to terrify those who are afraid of the Arabic language”. The image was retweeted 78.000 times and the design was featured on news sites around the world. The tote bag is made by Rock Paper Scissors, a graphic design studio in Haifa run by Sana Jammalieh and Haytham Charles Haddad. When interviewed by the Australian news site SBS, the two designers said about their design, “While fuddling what to write we came to a conclusion that the existence of the font and language—and not necessarily the writing—is what’s important.” The designers live in the Israeli city of Haifa, where typography is easily connected to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The designers continued, “We notice here that the Arabic language is starting to disappear from signs and public places.” The bag’s popularity coincides with growing xenophobia in Europe and populist politicians who brand Middle East culture as religious or Islamic extremist. The bags are currently sold out but keep an eye on their webshop, if you one.
The award-winning show Homeland is a television series from the U.S. featuring Claire Danes as a C.I.A. counter-terrorism agent. The series has been criticised for Islamophobic stereotypes and errors in its depiction of the Middle East. When filming in Berlin in 2015, artists from the Middle East were hired to ‘decorate’ the set with Arabic graffiti. The artists quickly realised no one was interested in what the graffiti actually said. As artist Heba Amin noted, ‘Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East’. They decided to use this opportunity to criticise the television series by writing slogans like ‘Homeland is Racist’, and ‘#blacklivesmatter’. Only after the episode aired the artists released a statement about the meaning of the slogans that had appeared during the show. The artists said, ‘It’s very important for us to address the idea that this kind of stereotyping is very dangerous because it helps form people’s perceptions of an entire region, a huge region, which in turn affects foreign policy’.
If you already have everything, what else could you want? Your own typeface. This is what Louis XIV, the sun king of France commissioned in 1692. The ‘Romain du Roi’ was engraved by Louis Simoneau for the exclusive use by Louis XIV. It took a group of type cutters and scientists more than 50 years to produce, and in 1745 all twenty-one sizes of roman and italic letters were cut. The typeface is an outstanding example because it was one of the first grid based typefaces, built up on a 8 x 8 grid. Although roman capitals were constructed, lower case letters were not based on a grid at the time. The designs for the Romain du Roi were loosely interpreted for use by type cutter Philippe Grandjean, for the rigidity of the design would have made the typeface too dull. Louis XIV was not the only ruler who had his own type made, in 1804 Napoleon commissioned the Didot as the ‘Romain de L’Empereur’, the emperor’s roman.