I am Ardwan Alsabti, a Graphic Designer, specialized in Mandaic art and typography.
Born as a Mandaean in Iraq, it was very difficult for my family to stay safe in the 1990s. At the age of nine, my parents decided to give us the chance to live a better life than they had in Iraq, so we moved to the Netherlands. The low lands enjoy beautiful architecture, countless waterways and colourful nature, as well as the friendly and curious Dutch people, who know how to appreciate the small details in life. Since we moved, I have been in love with the Netherlands.
There was just one problem, I knew many people who communicated with me in too many languages, such as Dutch, Mandaic, Arabic and English. I got the feeling that I needed only one language – one communication system, which everybody could understand without Translation.
Thus, I signed up for the study of media design in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. However, this study presented many possibilities, such as communicating through video, audio, animation, and print media. Print media, in particular, caught my attention. In the end, I saw myself as someone who loves to hold a book in his hands. Even for my graduation project, I decided to design a very special, but ordinary, book. It had no text, only surreal pictures carefully composed into one entity. They speak volumes and are full of symbolism. Even if it is difficult to understand something, one could start to suppose. The jury of the Media Design talent prize said it was, ''A very fascinating and remarkable book", when they chose to give me the talent award for the best designed project in 2010.
With this foundation my devotion for books continued to increase. All types of books, text books, art books, popup books, and electronic books, piqued my attention. However, the books that captured my heart were the ancient Mandaic manuscripts, written in a language not many people can read and furnished with geometric illustrations that nobody can understand. Unfortunately, there were only translations of the written text available, but no full explanations of the illustrated drawings. Recognizing this issue, I felt challenged to decipher these illustrations and understand their hidden meaning.
I spent four years of my last academic study at the graphic design department of the Academy of Art and Design Sint Joost (AKV | st. Joost) in Breda, the Netherlands to dig deeper into the Mandaic illustrated style, wishing to see its construction and understand the choices that my ancestors had made. I continued comparing all these manuscripts together until I started to recognize patterns, just like a language. It was an illustrated language with its own grammar to communicate on a different level than the script. This was such a special moment that I started to prepare myself in capturing and developing this style for a modern and understandable level, while finding my own "Mandaic" design style.
Reaching this level made me ask deeper questions: why does the Mandaic alphabet look how it does? Why does the "A" look like an "A" and why does the "B" look like a "B"? Why does the "B" follow the "A"? Since the study of the illustrations made me understand that there is no choice made without no reason. I believed strongly that my questions should have an answer. So, I used my interest in the alphabet to lay my last foundation, by studying the Mandaic script and its form.
The progress I have made through these two studies (Mandaic art and typography) has developed into something remarkably special. I have a good feeling about this, which makes it possible for me to conclude. We live in the Mandaean diaspora these days, but I see the light shining over a modern golden age for Mandaeism.