Sharjah design exhibition ‘reinvents’ Gulf heritage

Sunday 17/04/2016
Palmscapes by CodESIGN

Sharjah - Once Upon DESIGN: New Routes for Arabian Her­itage is aimed at “rein­venting heritage” in the Arabian Gulf through contemporary design practices in the fields of architecture, prod­uct and graphic design. The ex­hibition’s theme was put forth by curator Noor Aldabbagh through her creative platform Banafsajeel, which derives from the Arabic word for the colour violet and also trans­lates as “in the breath of a genera­tion”.
Building on research into design communities in the Gulf, the exhi­bition at 1971 Design Space in Shar­jah is the culmination of a year of study involving discussions with 30 designers across different fields to understand the challenges facing them and help structure the pro­gramme, Aldabbagh said.
“We invited designers to pro­pose projects within the theme of ‘reinventing heritage’ and advis­ers to give critical feedback,” she said. “Some designers were then selected to submit pro­posals for an exhibition and, once accepted, they were paired with advisers who could help them adapt and fulfil their vision.”
The new design movement, Ald­abbagh said, is “more of a contex­tual design, meaning whatever that is designed is inspired by the sur­rounding environment and works within it”.
Its characteristics are that it is aesthetically minimal, with a great­er focus on function and less on or­nament, with the use of local mate­rials, which carry special meaning for people in this region and reflect their values, while at the same time it is universal in its appeal, Aldab­bagh added.
The seven installations included in the exhibition “go beyond the physical preservation of tangible heritage to customs and oral tradi­tions familiar throughout the Arabi­an peninsula and inherited through generations,” said Giuseppe Mosca­tello, director of 1971 Design Space.
The designers have created works that respond to Arabian traditions and icons by enhancing or altering while encouraging audiences inter­act directly with the installations.
Product designer Ayah al-Bitar and architect Reem Hantoush, from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, re­spectively, collaborated on Majlis­na, a deconstructed majlis (place of sitting) around a symbolic bonfire.
Maha al-Sudairi, chief executive officer of Jeddah-based Think Tank Co., presented the group’s instal­lation, Takki W Hakki, a circular swing, with highly interactive features such as remixed traditional music, fluores­cent lighting and seat­ing shaped like camel saddles with Sadu print cushions.
“We wanted to do something cultural that everyone could relate to,” Sudairi said. “We made sure to create an environment where peo­ple could sit together and communicate like in the old days.”
Palmscapes by COdESIGN (UAE and Italy) is a dramatic interpreta­tion that transports the viewer to a desert environment. It is inspired by the story of an old woman’s pil­grimage and the dates she carries to her home in North Africa. Con­ceived by architects Anna Cornaro and Valerio De Divitiis, who are based in Dubai, it uses muted light design, soundscape and natural and manufactured forms to hint at the Arab region’s iconic source of sustenance as well as its wider geo­graphic linkages.
In Places We Used To Go, Diana Hawatmeh uses a graphic poster design format to revisit favourite locations in the United Arab Emir­ates that she visited when growing up in Dubai in the 1980s. The spots have either vanished or undergone drastic change. She challenges the rigid rules of Arabic typography through her highly individualised style, juxtaposing the images with jottings of personal musings, using a colloquial dialect from her Jorda­nian heritage.
LOCI Architecture & Design Stu­dio (UAE) has reimagined and re­designed the simple form of an incense burner Nadd for the sophis­ticated times we live in.
Netherlands-based Studio Mieke Meijer has “rescaled and re-contex­tualised” the architectural struc­ture of the traditional courtyard in the Middle East in an outdoor interactive installation Courtyard Culture. The design practice is a col­laboration between Mieke Meijer and Roy Letterle, who first visited the UAE in 2015.
“The heightened prejudice in Europe towards the Middle East prompted our interest. The mes­sage of that piece is that it is an en­vironment that is close as well as safe,” Letterle said.
Designer Latifa Saeed and ar­chitect Talin Hazbar (UAE) use the simple and primordial pottery form whose origins date back 7,000 years and catapults it into the future through an elegant wall lighting feature, Chasing Light.
Aldabbagh said the supporting factors needed for the new design movement in the Gulf to sustain it­self and thrive are “well-structured programmes that encourage dia­logue between designers and col­laboration across disciplines”.
“Institutional support for design­ers to experiment and think criti­cally rather than simply commer­cially is also necessary, along with curated exhibitions and projects that reflect to the public what this is about,” she said.
Once Upon DESIGN: New Routes for Arabian Heritage is presented until July 3rd at 1971 Design Space, Flag Island, Sharjah, UAE.