Fusion of ideas Soraya Syed and Mukhtar Sanders combined their skills in calligraphy and graphic design to create Nuqta Image Credit: Supplied

Arabic calligraphy is an ancient art form that includes many different styles and continues to evolve in the hands of contemporary artists and typographers. Beautiful examples of Arabic calligraphy can be found all around us — in Islamic manuscripts, monuments and art as well as in advertisements, graffiti, signage, films, television and other media. All these diverse expressions of Arabic calligraphy and typography will now be brought together in a vast picture gallery and knowledge bank on the subject by a unique mobile and web app called Nuqta. The free smartphone app has been developed by London-based graphic design company, Inspiral Design, and was launched in Dubai on March 21.

Nuqta is the brainchild of British couple Soraya Syed and Mukhtar Sanders. Syed is a professional calligrapher, whose client portfolio ranges from the British Museum to the Saudi royal family. Sanders is a graphic designer but has spent three years training as an apprentice to renowned calligraphic artist Dr Ahmad Mustafa. He is the founder of Inspiral Design, which specialises in Islamic art and multilingual design.

“We came up with the idea of the Nuqta website last year, while working on a project for a Middle Eastern company. We were commissioned to create a calendar, featuring images and detailed information about the different styles of Arabic calligraphy found in different countries. Our extensive research indicated a lack of enough information about this important subject that we love. Hence, we thought it would be a good idea to create a global digital resource accessible to everybody who is interested in Arabic calligraphy and typography, ranging from classically trained calligraphers, fine artists, graffiti artists and professional designers to scholars, researchers and art lovers. Thanks to the support of our team of programmers and strategists, we have created this first ever app and website dedicated to mapping and collecting examples of Arabic calligraphy and typography from around the world,” Syed says.

The Nuqta app, which works with the website, allows anybody, anywhere in the world, to contribute pictures and information. “The application is simple. When you come across an example of calligraphy that you like — be it a sculpture in a park, an inscription in a monument, a painting in a gallery or even street art — you take a photograph of the piece, give it a title and include some information about it, drop a pin on the map indicating where you are located and share the image and information with the world,” Sanders explains.

The worldwide map facility can be accessed through the Nuqta website, www.nuqta.com, which will feature an online library, user profiles and browsing versatility by location, style and user. “We hope that over time we will have a huge user-generated mobile museum of Arabic calligraphy, typography, art and design with pictures from around the world. And people who are interested in the subject will be able to learn about different approaches to this art form as well as to educate others by sharing their own knowledge. One of the many benefits we can envisage is for tourists travelling to a new country. If they are interested in calligraphy, the app can help them pinpoint specific masterpieces they want to see and also search for other examples located in the area. It can help them understand the words written on inscriptions even if they do not know Arabic, and if they want to learn more about a particular work, they can post questions to draw on the knowledge of other users,” Syed says.

Nuqta is the Arabic word for “point” or “dot” and also signifies “pin” in computer technology. Syed and Sanders worked together to create the dot-shaped logo, which is an interesting fusion of traditional calligraphy and contemporary typography. “Soraya has used traditional Thuluth-style calligraphy for the Arabic lettering and I used the Arabic ‘Al Wadi Grand’ typeface to write the English text. This reversal is significant because English seems to be overshadowing Arabic, even in the Arab world, and we hope that the Nuqta knowledge bank will encourage designers to work with Arabic typefaces and develop new ones,” Sanders says.

The couple chose to launch the Nuqta app in Dubai during Dubai Art Week, when brought together art professionals from around the world. The launch was supported by Design Days Dubai and the Netherlands-based Khatt Foundation. The app has been released for free download on iPhones, and a release for androids and tablets is scheduled later this year.

“Dubai is a major hub for art and design in this region and the response from art professionals and art lovers has been excellent. Award-winning typographer Wissam Shawkat and legendary Tunisian calligraphy artists Nja Mahdaoui were present at the launch in Dubai, and the three of us jointly created the first calligraphic work loaded on to the website. Huda Smitshuijzen-AbiFares, director of the Khatt Foundation was also present. We already have in our knowledge bank several articles and papers contributed by noted artists and scholars, and our aim is to cover every aspect of the subject, from the classical to the contemporary period. Our long-term vision is for Nuqta to become the ‘Wikipedia’ of Arabic calligraphy and typography, created by the public, for the public and freely accessible to everybody,” Syed says.

- Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.