A conceptual digital art project links computing programming to the Arabic language with a surprising point of view.
During his time at Eyebeam Art+Technology Center, Ramsey Nasser developed a conceptual art project addressing the difficulty and impossibility of coding in a non-Latin alphabet system. To convey his message, he turned to his native tongue, Arabic. The end result is a program that is an digital artwork that subtly reveals how non-English speakers need to adapt to the foundations that have been laid out for programmers in the past 60 years. Ramsey titled his work “قلب” or Qalb, which means “heart”. Watch the video below to watch Nasser Ramsey demonstrate the output of his creative endeavor.
Nasser seems to be concerned about the role of human culture in coding. By presenting a code that is written entirely with Arabic letters, he exposes the biases underlying programming and computer science at large. This puts the spotlight on the pedagogical biases that govern how code is taught in academic and educational settings without trying to argue for an alternative system.
Software engineering is fostered in the United States. If we’re going to push for coding literacy, if we’re going to push to teach code around the world, then we have to be aware of what their cultural biases are and what it means for someone that doesn’t share that background.
Driving this point home, he develops his point of view in an interview with Hyperstage, an robust Arabic site covering technology. Ramsey acknowledges previous attempts to create a coding language in Arabic and their shortcomings. What distinguishes قلب his work from previous attempts is the fact that it is a conceptual art project, not intended for everyday use. In this interview, Ramsey asserts that what brings all such programming projects together is their love for text and language. His project embraces traditional programming algorithms from the history of computer science and treats them with the same amount of respect and cultural sensitivity that Arabs treat their own poetry, calligraphy, and typefaces. This conveys a unique underlying link between the traditional practices of computer scientists and regular users of Arabic.