NOTES: Zeenat Kulavoor 6 February 2017

Notes is our latest series on exploring the dynamics of creativity over an informal break. We chatted with some of the most eminent as well as some of the upcoming artists in India today. Our next edition is with Zeenat Kulavoor. Zeenat wears many hats- she’s a typographer, graphic designer and an Arabic calligrapher and lettering artist working with the Urdu script for over 8 years. She shares with us her some of her most fascinating work with the Urdu script and gives us a glimpse of  the little known world of Arabic calligraphy. 

1. Could you tell us a little about your journey towards design?

I was a regular at art and craft competitions as a kid. Even in junior college I would sit and paint event posters for hours. All of this added up to Art college – Sir JJ Institute of applied art, Mumbai. My first ever introqductory lecture in JJ opened my eyes to the world of typography and design. I’ve always been inspired by all things analogue which resulted in me learning various print making techniques, different Indian scripts, book binding techniques and lot more.
Post college, in 2010 i worked with Zohar Furniturewala at Thunk Design Co. In 2011, I joined BombayDuckDesigns and it has been 6 strong years here!

2. Your workshops on Arabic calligraphy have garnered a lot of interest. Could you tell us about how you got interested in this?
 At the age of ten I did a short stint at a local Madrasa to learn reading the holy Quran. More than anything else, the little time that I spent there made me very curious and interested in the script. During my time at Sir JJ institute of applied arts I got a chance to revisit the Urdu script again. That’s when I started practicing calligraphy, lettering and Arabic/ Urdu type. After almost 8 years of working with the script and facing difficulties with people’s mindset, I decided on creating more open awareness about the script and it’s usage. That’s when I started a series of Arabic calligraphy  workshops that introduces individuals to Arabesque. And I must say I’m surprised with the kind of positive response I’m getting!

Apart from workshops, I take up commercial projects where there’s a possibility of using the Arabic/ Urdu script. I publish my Arabic work under the name ‘ilm’ – an Urdu word, which stands for knowledge.
Some of my works include phonetic Urdu calligr
aphy for ‘Mughal Pop’ – a furniture line designed by Mozez Singh for Good Earth, Urdu type based movie titles for Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ with Design Temple, Calligraphy on 100 yr old parchments for ‘Kyoto Journal’ a Japan based Asian online magazine. My works are completely non- religious and i keep my personal projects light hearted. I’m currently working on a series of 7 linocuts which are Urdu proverbs that we use in our daily routine – ‘maan na maan mai tera mehmaan’, ‘Deewaaron ke hi kaan hote hai’, ‘Zaroorat ke waqt gadhe ko bhi baap banana padta hai’.

P.S – also look out for the third edition of the Basic Arabic Calligraphy workshop on 9th Feb during the KalaGhoda Festival this year!

Link –

3. What’s your most-favourite and least-favourite font & why?

The amount of effort that goes into creating a typeface is crazy, something that I probably cannot sit through. My favourites keep changing and I can’t pick one! Currently at the top are – Helvetica Neue, Gotham & Brandon Grotesque. I love the ‘no nonsense’ feel of Helvetica Neue, adore the adaptability of Gotham and I’m a fan of the ‘character’ that Brandon Grotesque brings in! The least favourites don’t deserve to be talked about.

 4. What are your favourite art spaces across the world?
I am a fan of everything analogue so, India! There is just so much raw hand made beauty here.I also love Istanbul (Turkey) and Fez (Morocco)in the same context.
 5. What’s on your reading list?
 I’m not the novel type 🙂  I hog on art, design and travel magazines – Monocle, FUKT, Apartmento, Elephant.