Typeface as Visual Code (Typeface & Nationalism)

Design can contain numerous levels of meaning that are believed to echo ancient traditions or to be deeply woven in the ethnic makeup or representative of cultural belonging. These ‘visual codes’ have the power to instill a sense of belonging no less than language and religion. Typography in particular can contribute to the formation of national identities because of the importance of the written word in nationalist discourse. It can evoke cultural models such as in the well-known controversy surrounding the ‘traditional’ German Fraktur in National-Socialist Germany or the overwhelming usage of the typeface derived from the ancient Roman square capitals in Mussolini’s Italy.

This presentation will focus on more recent instances of letter design that have been built into national imaginaries as ‘traditional’ and that refer to purported ethnic/national heritage and cultural origins. These are identity-defining visual codes where the design transcends the meaning of the text and becomes itself the ultimate bearer of meaning. Examples include the Miroslav script, a pseudo-medieval typeface used in Balkan nationalism as a reference to the Byzantine Orthodox heritage and the calligraphic designs of religious phrases in Arabic that are commonly found on bumper stickers and graffiti to convey a sense of belonging to the Ottoman or Islamic cultural background.

Keywords: nationalism, identity, design, calligraphy.

Event Details

Date: 15 June, 2012
Time: 11:30–12:00

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