The Middle East; the Gulf Region; the Arab world - no matter what name is used to refer to it, the unmistaken image that people relate to design here is a metropolitan city filled with contemporary architecture. However, as we have seen through the various exhibitions in Milan Salone, this region has no shortage of locally-created content. Whether shown via galleries or brand collaborations, Middle Eastern designers are making waves on the global stage - and with the majority women being ahead of the curve, it is indeed a revolutionary time for the growing industry.
Here is a brief look at the three exhibitions/collections that made a good impression.
Nada Debs with the You & I rug collection.
The Funquetry collection consists of a cabinet, a console, occasional tables, a desk and swivel stool, a shelving system and bedside tables, and a bench.
A Levantine designer living and working in Beirut, Nada Debs's experience in life - she grew up in Japan, studied design at Rhode Island School of Design in the United States - has led her to find connections between different cultures. What ties her work together is her ability to distil culture and craftsmanship to create pieces of emotional resonance. She calls her approach: handmade and heartmade.
For example, her latest You & I rug collection perfectly expressed the coming together between a traditional carpet pattern design and contemporary designs in its atypical shape. Not to mention all of the rugs are handmade in collaboration with FBMI (Fatima Bint Mohammed Initiative) which provides women with employment in the carpet production process, offering them and their families critical social services in healthcare and education.
Another collection that caught our eye is the Funquetry collection. As the name suggests, this furniture collection explores a playful, contemporary interpretation of the traditional handcraft technique of marquetry. Strips of different coloured wood are inlaid to produce what's known as a "mother". In some pieces, these are then sliced and shifted to create a break in the geometric pattern. In others, they are applied to what Nada calls pleated wood: a triangulated cut into the solid wood. Our perception of these pieces changes as we move around them.
“Today the discussion around craft and craftsmanship is as loud as ever, but too often it’s taken too seriously. I want to begin a new dialogue around craft that has room for playfulness and joy too,” she says.
The PostCraft collection included Talisman Cabinet (T) and Lunar Tale Mirror (B).
As the name suggested, BD Barcelona is a Spanish company. But with the PostCraft Collection, it has brought together designers from four countries in the Gulf, including the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The collection explores culture and heritage in the rapidly changing world around us and re-imagines the regional, artisanal, skills and traditions through a contemporary lens. Hence, no surprise that these creations have been included in the brand's Art Editions series - which first collaborated with none other than Salvador Dalí, followed by bringing the work of Antoni Gaudí to the market.
A Manama-based architect, Maysam Al Nasser from Bahrain has created the Talisman Cabinet, a piece inspired by Friedrich Nietzche's quote, “There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.” It embodies a minimal, all-white cabinet that is drawn back like fabric. “The details of its history is represented at its core, peeling layers of time to reveal inevitable roots,” according to the designer.
Kuwait-based Loulwa Al Rawan, on the other hand, is an interior designer and founder of design studio INTERIA. Her design Lunar Tale is an interlaced mirror and brass which are locked into a unique pattern, depicting the different phases of the moon. With one hand pushing the small "moon" upwards, the mirror will slowly move sideways to revealed the "earth" - a blue-tinted decorative glass surface.
UAE Design Stories: a show dedicated to The Next Generation from The Emirates.
AlAreesh Stool by Aljoud Lootah (L), Stingray by Alia Mazrooei (R).
"Up until the early nineties, the subject of 'design' in the UAE was limited to interior design and decoration with more attention on surfaces materials and commercial projects," as described in UAE Design Stories, a show dedicated to The Next Generation from The Emirates. Since then, the design industry there has rapidly evolved with various platforms like Design Days Dubai, Downtown Design and not to mention the Dubai Design District (d3) that was launched in 2014. And "this (will) go a long way in promoting the rich and diverse culture of the region to international audiences and thereby strategically place Dubai as a centre for culture and creativity,” commented Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development.
Again, women designers shined through at Milan's Fuorisalone show. Aljoud Lootah, a multi-disciplinary designer, has displayed her AlAreesh Stool, a piece of furniture that was inspired by the traditional structure of the same name. According to her, the "areesh" structures are constructed from dried plain fronds of palm leaves, placed vertically as poles, and linked by the use of ropes to create simple enclosures providing shade from the sun and protection from the wind.
Another discovery is the Stingray by interior designer Alia Mazrooei. True to its name and form, this is a piece of furniture inspired by the body and movement of the stingrays, where the thickness of the stingray is characterised by its oblique body, long tail and prominent eyes and ranges from a light grey hue to dark brown hue. These sea creatures have been linked to the history of the UAE economically and culturally which dates back to ancient times.
Next up: A SG X JP Special Collaboration. Watch this space!
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
Back to Top
Sign up for the latest updates
in contemporary art & design!