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Kedai-Kedai Merdeka: Creolizing Typography

Kedai-Kedai Merdeka is a typeface that considers how the Latin alphabet can be inflected by the aesthetics of non-Latin alphabets. It is an experimental variant of our prior typeface Kedai-Kedai, which is influenced by condensed Sans-Serifs from existing multilingual and vernacular signage of Malaysian shophouses, also called kedai-kedai in Malay. Such shophouse signage prevailed between the nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, and was particularly multilingual and multiscript due to the ethnically diverse population that emerged as a result of migration and British colonialism. With the same effect on both colonialism and globalization, the Latin script became the scriptura franca in Malaysia. Arabic Malay has been systematically Latinized since the 1930s as part of a concerted effort to nationalize the Malay language, and to promote its uptake among non-malay-speaking citizens. Although ethnocentric populism occasionally resorted to a nativist discourse of rejuvenating the Arabic contra Latinized Malay, to the ethnic minorities, the latter signals the only familiar contact with the national language. Against this nuanced and contentious backdrop, Kedai-Kedai Merdeka is designed with the spirit of Merdeka which translates to “independence from colonialism and narrow dogmatism.” This typeface experiments with numerous ways of coexistence and acknowledging the translocal flows of influence in Malaysia’s typographic landscape. Drawing upon the ligatures of Jawi and Tamil and the modularity of Chinese characters, Kedai-Kedai Merdeka is an attempt at typographic creolization. It is Latin typography that’s been Arabicized, Tamilized, and Sinicized. In a postcolonial context that befuddles easy dichotomization of the foreign and local; common is a familiar alien and an unfamiliar ally. Common is the world in which we are always creolized. The project was exhibited in ‘Solidarity Spores’ exhibition, curated by Sulki & Min and Tetsuya Goto. The exhibition took place at Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, Korea, from May 15, 2020 through October 25, 2020.


Sueh Li Tan

Sueh Li is a type designer from Malaysia. Li has a master’s degree in type design from the Type and Media Master program at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. With an interest in finding Malaysia's own unique identity in typography and type design, Li is keen in exploring multilingualism and vernacular type. Li’s work covers a broad range; from custom type for branding projects to multilingual type in non-latin script. Li is the founder of Huruf, a type collective that strives to encourage greater awareness of typography and type design in Malaysia.


Zi Hao Tan

Tan Zi Hao is a multi-disciplinary artist who works predominantly in installation and performance art. Hao’s works explore the discourses of power within the postcolonial setting and probe the disjuncture in the production and contestation of history. Language, multilingualism, and linguistic ideologies are subjects that inform most of Hao’s text-based installations. Hao completed his bachelor’s in international communications studies and master’s in international relations at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. Hao is currently completing his PhD in southeast Asian studies at the National University of Singapore. Aside from being an artist, Hao is a designer, researcher, writer, and zinester.