Ishan Khosla & The Typecraft Initiative


Since 2011, The Typecraft Initiative has created a platform to bring designers and folk and tribal artists together through type design. In 2013, Typecraft created arguably the world's first typeface—based on a folk craft or indigenous tribal art form—called Godna (tattoo).

But what is the value of indigenous knowledge in a world obsessed with technology? I believe in the power of indigenous wisdom because it gets at the very heart of what it means to be human—to have a deep and loving connection to Mother Earth—something most of us urban dwellers need to be reminded of.

Just like the planet, tribal tattoos are in a state of crisis. It is important to value them even in the avatar of technology as a digital typeface. The transformation of one form of language—the tribal tattoo (godna)—encoded with meaning known only to a set of tribes—to a typeface—also encoded with significance for a larger audience (as Latin or Indic type); though gives a new form and meaning to tribal tattoos, simultaneously decontextualises the tattoo from its original meaning and re-codifies it.

To go back full circle, in my artwork for IOTA 2024—Body Language, I intend to take Typecraft a step further where images and symbols—that are significant to the tribe—have been embedded into the typeface itself. These images would be revealed to a user as they type words using this font. In this manner, the typeface decodes critical aspects that are valuable to the tribe.

Acknowledgements & Collaborators

Ishan would like to thank the Baadi Tribal Tattoo artists—Mangala Bai Maravi, Jumni Bai Maravi, Chamar Singh Maravi and the late Shanti Bai Maravi. The latter's work is what inspired me more than ten years ago to think of working with the community to develop a typeface. Thank you to Andreu Balius, partner The Typecraft Initiative for his continued technical support and partnership!

About Ishan Khosla

Born 1976. Fort Kochi, Kerala, India
Lives and works Dehradoon, India
LOTE: Hindi

Ishan Khosla is a visual artist, designer and educator with an MFA in Design (School of Visual Arts, New York City), and a BS in Computer Science (U. of Washington, Seattle).

Ishan is interested in exploring various facets of the contemporary Indian milieu—from the vernacular and street in his use of found objects literally but also as starting points for his work—to the transformation of intricate tribal and folk craft into codified typefaces, through design.

He aims to create new types of anthropological, material, functional, and socio-cultural juxtapositions that combine handmade craft, digital technology, and design in unusual ways that raise pertinent questions relevant to the zeitgeist.

The Typecraft Initiative (Trust) established by Ishan in 2011–12 is a way to use design to not just create typefaces based on tribal art and craft but also use this as a socio-political platform. By choosing to work with religious minorities, tribals, subordinate castes, and women. Typecraft not only makes a bold statement about inequity, colonisation, patriarchy, and power structures but it also emphasises the need to revisit craft and make it relevant for today’s audiences. Additionally, but allowing users to generate tattoos through the Baiga typeface, Typecraft aims to create living digital repositories of tribal wisdom.

Ishan has exhibited previously in Australia—at the Bunjil Place; the Nishi Gallery; the Australian Design Centre; and the Hawkesbury Gallery. Additionally, he has shown his work at Curiosity & Rituals of the Everyday at the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial (IOTA) in Perth in 2021, and exhibits now as part of Stitch as Code, at Curtin University's School of Design & the Built Environment for IOTA24.

Exhibiting at

Curtin DBE Exhibition Space

At Building 418, the new facility for Curtin University's School of Design and the Built Environment.


1 Koorliny Way, Bentley, WA 6102