Jana Traboulsi’s Kitab al-Hawamish explores the art of ancient “hyperlinks”



Traboulsi – who works as an artist and educator in Lebanon – is among a list of eight finalists for the V&A Jameel Prize, all of whom have made works inspired by the Islamic tradition. This year marks the first time that the award has included contemporary design among its potential winners.

Kitab al-Hawamish, or Book of Margins, was created in 2017, when Traboulsi was commissioned to create a room for Beirut’s cultural center Dar El Nimr. After gaining access to the centre’s collection of ancient manuscripts and books, Traboulsi became fascinated with some of the design and calligraphy devices she found.

“There are a lot of design features – and not just from an aesthetic point of view, although aesthetically most of the books were amazing – in terms of functionality,” she says. “I discovered crazy navigation systems, signs that tell you something about different habits or readings, and a totally different relationship to orality.”

Several elements in particular caught his attention, including the use of diagonal writing in the margins of historical or religious texts, to provide readers with additional interpretation or context for the stories. Traboulsi draws parallels between this and modern use of hyperlinks, which also give readers the opportunity to delve deeper if they wish.

Instead of numbered pages, the designer says manuscript creators have often added keywords – the first word on the next page – at the bottom of each page, to facilitate continuous, rhythmic recitation, and save the speaker from any awkward pause when turning to the next section. His book also recreates the kind of “scar” found in an ancient parchment, where animal skin was sewn together.

Divided into three chapters, Kitab al-Hawamish explores some of these marginal features and calligraphy, and includes an excerpt from a historic 10th century scribe’s book, as well as details on how to make parchment.

Traboulsi hopes the book will encourage visitors to the V&A – where all shortlisted works will be on display from September 18 to November 28 – to reflect on the perceived boundaries between design and art, as well as ask themselves what book design is all about. can and should look like.

“In magazines you have many types of reading, but not in books,” she tells CR. “One of my main revelations is how boring book design has become compared to what it used to be, and how uninteresting a reading experience is, how unattractive it is. And also how in my region we have our understanding of good design which is European modernist design, as opposed to maintaining all that tradition which is a very rich reading experience.

vam.ac.uk; janatraboulsi website


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