Artist Wissam Shawkat’s logo for Basra is an evocative ode to his hometown

Iraqi calligrapher created the city’s striking logo, now being used during the Arabian Gulf Cup

The new logo is being displayed in the form of sculptures across Basra. Photo: Wissam Shawkat
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Iraqi artist Wissam Shawkat always wanted to do something for his hometown of Basra. And now, the designer and international authority on calligraphy has come to a full circle moment that combines his art and his heritage.

Last July, the Basra government approached Shawkat and asked him to design a logo that would represent the port city. It would be depicted in a series of sculptures across the city and Shawkat knew from the onset that he wanted to create a design that represented Basra’s heritage in a modern and positive way.

“I wanted the logo to show that Basra is a positive city now,” Shawkat, 48, told The National.

“The colours in the logo represent the many; the mixture of all the people living in Basra from all religions and ethnicities. Basra has been known throughout history as a place where people from different backgrounds and ethnicities live.”

Wissam Shawkat's idea sketches for the Basra logo design. Photo: Wissam Shawkat

The logo is designed around the Arabic name for the city, Al Basra, placed alongside the English word. Both are depicted in a specialised font created by Shawkat himself, which uses strong, bold, geometric lines and shapes that simultaneously appear fluid and light.

“I wrote the English to match the style of the Arabic calligraphy,” Shawkat says.

“The Arabic calligraphy is influenced by my style, a font called Al Wissam, but in a more geometric way also inspired by the Kufic script."

Since the logo was going to be turned into a sculpture, Shawkat wanted the final design to have a more ridgid feel, with straight lines that are easy to read in both Arabic and English.

“I wanted to keep it simple,” Shawkat adds. “I kept it horizontal, because I was considering the use of the logo — people taking pictures with it, [or] they might sit on it. It also had to sit on a base, so everything was aligned from there.”

Wissam Shawkat first learned the craft of calligraphy aged 10 in Basra. Antonie Robertson / The National

At the meeting point between the Arabic and English words, Shawkat created an image that represents two aspects of Basra’s heritage — the palm tree and an architectural element called shanasheel.

A prevalent architectural feature seen in the old houses in Basra, shanasheel is a type of projecting window or extruding wooden structure from the frontal facade of domestic buildings or the upper floor of a home. It is often enclosed with wood latticework and includes elaborate designs and arches as part of its aesthetic.

Shawkat designed the palm tree’s trunk to resemble two different arches — as seen on shanasheels — as they protrude away from the palm tree towards each word.

“I wanted to add some symbols that represent Basra,” Shawkat says. “There is no better symbol like the palm tree which Basra is known for.”

Like the use of line and shape, Shawkat’s colour choice for the design of the logo and sculpture is both bold and cohesive. A mosaic of bright colours appears in a symmetrical pattern similar to a stained glass window.

Wissam Shawkat's logo for Basra represents two aspects of its heritage — the palm tree and the architectural element shanasheel. Photo: Wissam Shawkat

“I wanted the logo to have a celebratory feel, a happy feel to it,” Shawkat adds.

“Basra has suffered a lot since the 1980s from the wars, and all the troubles that came to Iraq. So I wanted the colours to represent happiness.”

The top part of the palm tree uses different shades of green, while the different shades of blue represent Shatt al-Arab or the River of the Arabs, where the Tigris and Euphrates meet in Basra.

Shawkat’s logo rising up in different parts of the city coincides with Basra hosting the Arabian Gulf Cup. The biennial football competition, which is currently running until January 19, is a “very positive” and a “big event for Iraq and for Basra”, Shawkat says.

For the artist, who first learned the craft of calligraphy aged 10 in Basra, being able to use his art and perspective to give back to his hometown and add a lasting mark to its visual identity is a point of great pride.

“This is where I started my journey with art and design and calligraphy,” he says.

“I feel so proud and humble and happy at the same time. I always wanted to do something for my city and leave a mark. This was the right timing, the right project for me. I would consider it one of the most important projects I've done in the past years.”

Scroll through mages of Wissam Shawkat's solo exhibition exploring the word love

Updated: January 12, 2023, 9:21 AM