Sharjah design exhibition ‘reinvents’ Gulf heritage
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.