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Apr / May 2017
Exceptional by Design

WRITER: Pratyush Sarup

With more participants than ever before, Design Days Dubai, the region’s first fair dedicated to collectible and limited-edition furniture and design objects, is garnering ever more interest.

Currently the Middle East’s only fair dedicated to museum quality design, we’ve come to expect great things from Design Days Dubai. But, from its new home at Dubai Design District, this sixth edition managed to raise the benchmark with 50 leading international galleries from 39 countries, and an underscoring spirit of diversity and inclusion.

 

Wajih Nakkash and his son Omar stand beside pieces from their first collaboration together. “We strived to create pieces with a simple and instinctive approach that had a modern aesthetic to them by incorporating distinct materials which I think translated perfectly throughout the collection,” commented Wajih.

 

Best of Britain

Design expert and editor-at-large for Wallpaper magazine, Suzanne Trocmé has been applying her skills to the development of Arab design talent for a few years now. She was the mastermind behind ‘Middle East Revealed’, a celebratory digest of design from the region curated for the London Design Festival in 2014. She then expanded on her view with a second instalment of this exhibition during the Salone del Mobile in 2015. But this year she has turned the tables by bringing ten celebrated UK designers to Design Days Dubai in order to showcase their work at a ‘Britain Takes Shape’ exhibition.

Highlighting the importance of collaboration and migration within the global creative community, the exhibition sent a strong message, especially given our current Nationalistic, Trumpian, post-Brexit world. Furniture designer Brodie Neill’s E-turn bench – entirely handmade in lacquered fiberglass – exemplified his signature aesthetic: striking, seemingly unattainable forms that are as sinuous as they are sculptural. Award-winning Bethan Gray presented her Islamic arts and crafts inspired Shamsian Collection, which is born from a collaboration with Mohamad Reza Shamsian – an Iranian artist who has worked for over 30 years in Oman. The elegant and contemporary pieces are made using the traditional technique of marquetry, khatam, damascene and metallic decoration, showcasing the meticulous technique of inlaying and overlaying materials such as brass and paua shell (a sea snail) into coloured solid wood and maple veneer, to create exquisite patterning.

Also returning for their fifth time was The Crafts Council UK, who brought eleven high-calibre British designers, with the aim of promoting them to an international audience. Standouts included Anita Carnell, who hand-stitches gilt thread onto leather to create custom wall panels, Harry Morgan who forms sculptural pieces in concrete and glass and Shauna Richardson, who brought a 3.2-metre-high ‘crochetdermy’ animal sculpture.

 

Sonuslexica by India-based Apical Reform, is a cutting-edge installation specially commissioned for Design Days Dubai 2017, created using sonic waves and the latest digital printing technology.

 

Global Ambition

Fulfilling Dubai’s desire to be perceived as an international hub, some of the world’s most revered international design galleries once again took part in Design days, with the likes of Todd Merrill Studio, which has built a stellar reputation over the last decade and a half for its eclectic mix of 20th century furniture and lighting. Originally located in a 50 square-metre space at the corner of Stanton and Ludlow on New York City’s Lower Eastside, the pioneering gallery launched Studio Contemporary in 2009. The result is a portfolio of one-of-a-kind works by the likes of Molly Hatch, Niamh Barry and Jake Phipps – all of whom were on show at the fair.

The focus was also on Brazil’s worldly Coletivo Amor de Madre, who presented an interactive installation by Atelier Marko Brajovic, which continues to introduce nature-inspired innovation to the world of design. Merging art, design and technology, as well as employing design as a powerful transformation tool to spark change, the collective’s message is heavy on reflection.

In partnership with Maison Parisienne, the Parisian purveyor of high design, Territoire(s), marked its pavilion with a luminous installation: the Flying Chair by Geraldine Gonzales, which set a new record for the highest number of Swarovski crystals used in a work of this kind. The chair evoked a complementary play between transparency and light, and through its upside down suspension intentionally served a function other than seating. Also dealing with transformation were Simone Pheulpin’s sculptures, which turned unbleached calico and brut cotton into intricate works of art. Similarly, Pierre Renart’s works exploit innovative techniques to render curvaceous wooden furniture in an extraordinary harmony of function and style.

 

Shawl, an artwork made of brass and wood with embroidery patterns from the Levant region by Naqsh Collective.

 

Local Talent

Underlining the growing might of our regional creative community, Middle Eastern designers and curators comprised more than half of the galleries on show. Back when the fair began, Nakkash Gallery was the only locally based exhibitor and having returned every year since with collections from international designers, this year saw the father-and-son owners, Wajih and Omar Nakkash, present their own-designed collection for the first time. Also attending were sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail, the founders of the Amman-based Naqsh Collective, who debuted their latest foray with the acclaimed Wihdeh Collection. Inspired by both contemporary and traditional Arab aesthetics, the collection delves into embroidery as inspiration, seeking a sense of community in each cluster of stitches.

There were also outlandish new creations from Lebanon’s ever-colourful Vick Vanlian, a contemporary take on majlis seating from Qatari designer Aisha Al Sowaidi and a novel storage solution by Ayah Al Bitar called The Sanctuary, which aims to facilitate the act of praying or any other meditative ritual.

 

Crescere by Molly Hatch comprises 37 earthenware hand-painted plates inspired by an early 13th century Islamic plate on view at the Metropolitan Museum.

 

Ode to Dubai

With a record 20 designers from the UAE, there was a lot of local design talent on show. Of particular note was Emirati designer Aljoud Lootah’s first collection made from ceramics (Tebr), the original acrylic paintings and hand-knotted carpets created by the Dubai-based Carpets CC, as well as the remarkable organic works produced by Dubai-based Irish artist and academic Michael Rice.

Then again, one of the most talked about works came courtesy of the progressive design studio, Apical Reform. Commissioned specially for the fair, the Sonuslexica installation played on parametric design and sound wave technologies, and was designed as a floating iceberg. With its form apparently alluding to the Emirate’s resilient spirit, the installation was intended to pay homage to the leadership of Dubai and the hard graft of its people. Visitors were invited to record the words: ‘Peace, Growth and Harmony’ – identified by the designers as the pillars of the emirate’s ascent on the world stage – in their native languages. The extracted sound waves were then digitally manifested as wooden totems that composed the base of the installation, akin to a stylised version of the Dubai skyline.

 

Pierre Renart’s Waimea wooden furniture plays with organic curves and the nobility of materials.

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