Omar Mohammad revives Afghan culture through design and typography
“I want to be a catalyst for generating thoughtful, high-quality, critical and beautiful art and design that is produced by Afghanistan and those in its diaspora,” says the California-based artist.
- Joey Levenson
- 25 April 2023
As a first-generation Afghan-American Muslim designer, the work of Omar Mohammad is informed by a rich cultural history. But, in the immediate personal effect, Omar’s work has an infusion of tech and engineering with art and typography. “There was always that push towards a technical field, as many immigrant Muslim households tend to push,” Omar tells It’s Nice That. “There was this double interest growing up, where I loved the idea of being a computer engineer, but I was also a skateboarder and loved all the fashion, art and design that came with being involved in that subculture.” Initially pursuing engineering as a path to explore the synthesis between these two, it wasn’t until mid-way through university that Omar pivoted to design – and the rest is history.
One of Omar’s (many) standout works is the Bamyan typeface, a design project exploring the possibilities of a cultural typeface designed specifically for a region of Afghanistan. “It makes reference to the Bamyan Valley of Afghanistan, its Buddhas and the caves that inhabit it,” Omar explains. “Letterforms take on the curved structure of the hollowed out caves piercing the cliff side, while creating an homage to the topography of the region, both natural and man-made.” This was a project two years in the making, originating in an Arabic typography course taught by Nadine Chahine. “Where most Arabic typography being produced right now focuses on the Arabic language, the Farsi (Persian) typography that is produced largely comes out of Iran,” Omar says. “Afghanistan isn’t a strong contributor to this field of design currently but its history is one of the richest when it comes to contributions to Islamic art, calligraphy, poetry and architecture.” For Omar, this project was about reviving that cultural well for his homeland.
The typography’s beautiful incorporation of the Buddhas of Bamyan has been something Omar has been fascinated by since childhood. “When I found out that none of my family members were ever able to make the trip to visit them, it crushed my soul,” he says. Now, most contemporary artworks and projects that revolve around the Bamyan Buddhas relate to its destruction by the Taliban in 2001, something Omar wanted to distinctly deviate from. “I want to stay away from any of the war and trauma, and introduce new ideas and concepts into the Afghan conversation,” Omar tells us. “The initial idea for this project was to create summer vacation postcards of an alternate reality or fictional history, where the Buddhas were never destroyed, but were a huge tourist spot for people all over the world.” Essentially, with Bamyan, Omar wanted to create an Afghanistan that's “as hyped for a summer vacation as somewhere like Paris, Bali or New York”. The final project exists in total as a website that uses the overall Bamyan design philosophy in its UI and design.
Omar's work on the Bamyan typeface is a great example of how art and design can revive a culture and bring new ideas and concepts into the conversation. “The typeface is a simple design, yes, but I’m hoping it inspires and encourages designers and artists from Afghanistan to push the limits and boundaries of our work, especially conceptually,” Omar says. “Preserve, produce and share our beautiful culture.”
GalleryOmar Mohammad: Bamyan (Copyright @ Omar Mohammad, 2023)
Omar Mohammad: Bamyan (Copyright @ Omar Mohammad, 2023)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.