Article in brief: Walking through a signage street in Ajman to explore the different processes that take place in the making of these signs shines a light on the struggle of the signage industry.
A street that could be easily missed in the emirate of Ajman is dotted with shops that deal with the business of signage-making and almost every other service that is relevant to typography. The oddity of this industry is that the Arabic word that is used to indicate what these shops do translates to “calligrapher”, yet calligraphers remain a rarity, and not many can be found in these shops. I set out to explore the various options that are offered, by walking through this street and popping into a number of shops to compare materials, techniques, and methods.
The first shop I walked into offered the standard 3D shop front signage, which consists of fabricating letters in English and Arabic. Sony from the Philippines was happy to show me the materials and lights that are used to make signs and when I asked him if he also works with neon light signs, he explained that people are starting to move away from using them, since they drains a lot of electricity, as opposed to LED, which is a more efficient lighting option. Sony fabricates all the signs by hand, using materials such as aluminum and acrylic (plastic sheets), among other familiar materials.
As I walked into more and more shops I noticed that the customers’ options are limited to what is only out on display in the shop; no samples or lists of materials are presented, and if you were illiterate in the vocabulary that is exchanged in this industry you might as well leave empty-handed or settle for what your eyes can see around the corners of the shop.
Another noticeable element was the push and pull between manual and digital fabrication. Naturally, the shops that had technology on their side were able to expand their services, such as creating printed 2D signs, stamps, business cards, etc. While the rest were limited to focusing only on creating signs manually.
A large sign announced in bold black letters that the shop deals with both art and signage. I found myself walking hastily towards it in hopes that I stumble into a calligrapher sitting behind an aged desk, pulling black ink gracefully across a white canvas – much to my dismay, there was no calligrapher to be found, only paintings that are up for sale.
The signage street in Ajman is but an example of modest service providers who due to difficulty in communication and knowledge in proper customer-care are not able to progress very much in their business. A great product that is ironically made for the use of communication and legibility is not as easy to produce, it seems. It was, however, interesting to ponder about the evolution of having the older manual labor of calligraphy in these shops jump to printing and 3D letters, replacing the written art form and pushing it right next to neon lights in the realm of extinction.
Moza Almatrooshi is an Emarati artist and designer. After attaining a BA from Zayed University Dubai in Interior Design in June 2013, Moza began her journey in trying to find a place in the creative industry in the UAE, starting with catching a plane to Italy to intern in the UAE Pavilion in the Venice Art Biennale 2013. Since then Moza has dabbled in several experiences such as architecture, design, event planning, art exhibitions, and writing for independent publications. Moza continues to journey through life, art, and design.
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