AkuruCon ’21: A celebration of Sinhala and Tamil letterforms

Saturday, 18 September 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • #30DaysofAkuru, a month-long celebration of lettering embraced by students and professionals
  • Aims to stir global interest in Sinhala and Tamil typography, highlight endless typographic and graphical possibilities of the 2 scripts

By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya

Focus is often drawn to the beauty of spoken language, which, in Sri Lanka, is mainly a combination of Sinhala, Tamil and English. However, there is beauty in the written word too, with unexpected similarities as well as stark differences between different languages.

Various techniques are used when arranging type, making written language legible and appealing. This is known as typography. In Sri Lanka, those interested in typography are likely to be part of Akuru Collective, which is a collective of Sri Lankans interested in everything connected to typography. This includes type designers, graphic designers, design educators and students.

A not-for-profit organisation, Akuru Collective is led by an elected committee that steers the work they do, manages lower level strategic decisions, and delegates tasks to other members. It provides a platform for Sri Lankan typography enthusiasts to meet and act together towards the common goal of inspiring interest and improving standards of typography in the country.

“Our objective is to nurture talent and build an efficient and meaningful service to people interested in typography, writing systems, languages and literature of South Asia and Southeast Asian regions,” AkuruCon 2021 Event Director Akila Lakmal said.

He added that Akuru Collective also organises training sessions, courses, workshops, conferences and other educational programs that cover and relate to the interest areas of the Collective and foster research and practise of research in typography and writing systems.

Akuru Collective also provides facilities and opportunities for members to engage with national, regional and international communities, conferences and knowledge exchange programs that align with the Collectives’ objectives and interest areas.

They also liaise with national, regional and global initiatives and standardisation organisations to develop and further technology, type and typography technical standards including, but not limited to, Unicode, Opentype and similar standards.

While Akuru Collective contributes to the art and technique of typography is several ways, one of their most looked forward to events is AkuruCon.


“The first-ever AkuruCon was held in 2018 in collaboration with the Embassy of Netherlands in Sri Lanka to celebrate the 280th anniversary of the introduction of movable type in Sri Lanka,” AkuruCon 2021 Event Manager Malindi Jayathunga said.

“The conference focused on the shared history of typography between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands, featuring presentations of research done on the history of printing in Sri Lanka and the contribution of the Dutch in developing the first Sinhala movable type,” she went on to say, adding that renowned Dutch type designer and educator Martin Majoor joined the conference as a guest speaker.

This year, AkuruCon was a month-long celebration of Sinhala and Tamil letterforms. “The idea was to recognise Sri Lanka’s rich typographic landscape by building a discussion about its present, past and the future,” Jayathunga said.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, AkuruCon 2021 differed slightly from previous events. According to Akila Lakmal, Sri Lanka’s cultural scene was hit hard by the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. This did not stop Akuru Collective, however.

“Adapting to the new normal, Akuru Collective was able to create an interactive virtual space, bringing together all types of individuals to dive into the treasure trove of typographic knowledge. AkuruCon held a series of events online,” Akila Lakmal said.

A multilingual Sri Lanka

The theme of AkuruCon 2021 was ‘A Multilingual Sri Lanka’ and Akuru Collective says this was mainly due to their aim of educating the design community on the similarities and co-evolution of Sinhala and Tamil type while promoting the use of both scripts in the visual design process.

“Through this initiative, we will be able to keep the conversation flowing ensuring that the very essence of human communication is not disregarded in design,” Jayathunga said.

She explained that AkuruCon is known to draw in a wide audience from a variety of backgrounds from scholars and academics to typography enthusiasts, font developers, graphic designers, advertising industry professionals and students.

“This year, we hosted virtual workshops and discussions on subjects such as multilingual branding and the history in Sinhala and Tamil typography, giving participants the opportunity to connect better with the languages that are closer to their heart,” Jayathunga added.

The month-long event covered various aspects of Sinhala and Tamil typography, with discussions and workshops held each week.

A discussion by Dr. Sumanthri Samarawickrama and Pathum Egodawatta as well as Prof. Udaya Kumar and Aadarsh Rajan from India looked at the history of typography during the first week. It was titled Paving the way for Sinhala and Tamil Typography.

The second week looked at the present, with a panel on multilingual in branding and communications in Sri Lanka moderated by Leyanvi Mirando. Nisayuru Basnayaka and Chanuka Wijesinghe were the panellists.

The future of typography was discussed during week three, focusing on Unicode. The discussion was carried out by Dr. S.T. Nandasara, Dhanika Perera, Pathum Egodawatta, Kosala Seneviratna, and Janaka Attanayake.

Three workshops were held during the final week. One was a practice workshop in English on Ranjana Lipi calligraphy by Sunita Dangol and Ananda Maharhjan from Nepal.

Tharique Azeez helped AkuruCon 2021 participants draw letterforms with confidence during the Taste of Tamil Letterforms workshop and also carried out the Sinhala-Tamil-English logo design workshop along with Samadara Ginige and Indika Jayathilaka.

30 Days of Akuru

One of the highlights of AkuruCon is 30 Days of Akuru, which is a much-loved and anticipated segment that is being held for the third time.

According to Akila Lakmal, the month-long celebration of lettering is embraced by both students and professionals alike. “#30DaysofAkuru aims to stir global interest in Sinhala and Tamil typography and highlight the endless typographic and graphical possibilities of the two scripts,” he said.

“The engagement was overwhelming. We had students, academic professionals, researchers, creative and industry professionals taking part in #30DaysOfAkuru with their creative entries. We are grateful for their interest in taking the type to a wider community and beyond,” Akila Lakmal added.

What comes next

The organisers say that the next AkuruCon will be in two years’ time, but they have many exciting things lined up. “We are currently working on a few projects in collaboration with the Institute of Typography and W.A. Silva Museum which we can share with the audience in the future,” Jayathunga said, adding that they will also be introducing an Akuru Collective membership for typographic enthusiasts.

“For further updates, stay tuned with Colombo Type on social media,” she added.