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3/1 Gaza protest criticises politicians

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I am El Hema

26 August 2007 - Playing with other people’s logos: some get away with it, others do not. Last Friday, Mediamatic presented its new Arabic typefonts at an exhibition parodying both the Hema department stores and the I Amsterdam city branding campaign.

At the Post CS building, Mediamatic opened an Arabic version of the popular Hema department store, selling Arabic chocolate letters, school note books suitable for writing from right to left, halal sausages, and other products. The fonts used have been designed by teams of Dutch and Arabic designers.

On 17 July, the Hema’s legal department sent Mediamatic a letter ordering it to deliver all t-shirts, bags, display materials and other products saying ‘Hema’ or ‘El Hema’ (‘in Dutch or Arabic writing’) to the Hema offices for destruction. However, within days the department store chain changed its mind and announced it supported the Mediamatic initiative.

The incident yielded huge media attention, leading to inevitable speculation about the whole conflict being a publicity stunt. However, it seems unlikely that Hema would have gone along with such a scheme.

Hema’s initial hostile response was somewhat surprising, given its earlier rather detached response to an SKK campaign urging the department store to have its suppliers improve labour conditions. The SKK uses t-shirts and other materials featuring the Hema logo. However, Hema’s response was limited to an explanation of its corporate social responsibility policies.

At the opening of the Mediamatic exhibition, alderwoman Carolien Gehrels proudly wore an Ana-msterdam t-shirt - a play on the I Amsterdam city branding campaign (‘ana’ means ‘I’ or ‘I am’ in Arabic).

Of course, Mediamatic was not the first to adapt the slogan to its own purposes. Drug users’ organisation MDHG had I Amsterdam Too t-shirts printed to protest against zero tolerance policies, and when some gay pride activities were cancelled because they would coincide with a football tournament, protestors wore I Am Ashamed t-shirts.

However, when civil servants used an I Ambtenaar (‘ambtenaar’ means ‘civil servant’) logo at their website, they received a letter from the city ordering them to stop using the logo, unless they changed the colours and the typeface, removed the connection between the A and the M and used a sanserif letter I.

Apparently, the municipality would rather have people associate its logo with gay pride or multicultural design than with civil servants’ office humour. Which is understandable.

Illustration above: Gehrels posing in Ana-msterdam t-shirt at the opening of the Mediamatic exhibition. Below: El Hema t-shirts, SKK t-shirts, I Am Ashamed t-shirt, banned I Ambtenaar logo, redesigned I Ambtenaar logo

Background: El Hema website, SKK Hema campaign, I Amsterdam Too campaign (in Dutch), I Ambtenaar website (in Dutch), critical discussion of I Amsterdam campaign


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