Rana Beiruti

Arab Design NowDesign Doha 2024 Headline Exhibition

Amine Asselman –– Metamorphosis, 2023, photo by Rita G.Rivera.

Arab Design Now is a survey exhibition of contemporary design from the Arab World. It features works done by local and regional designers across disciplines from architectural and material interventions to contemporary crafts, furniture, graphic, and object design.

The constellation of works presented reveal multifaceted conversations unfolding concurrently across our region today. The exhibition celebrates the diversity of design in the region, which is shaped by a fusion of cultures, traditions, histories, and beliefs, and seeks to map the common values, preoccupations, and histories that bind us together.

From Bilad al Sham to the Gulf to North Africa, designers exhibit a commitment to heritage-based traditions and rituals, and an eagerness to rediscover, reinterpret, and evolve them. Their design process is inspired by a culture centered on values of community, collaboration, and co-creation. A strong commitment to the environment is evident in their response to the unique geographies of the region, and their material sensibilities indicate an intimate relationship with the land and earth. Undeniably, there is a strong element of storytelling in design from the Arab World, communicated using a common language, and written using a script so distinctive it has evolved into an art form in its own regard.

Arab Design Now is an ode to the diversity and universality of the contemporary Arab identity and the possibilities that design can manifest.

Amina Agueznay –– Portal 1-4, 2023, Photo by Abderrahim Annag, Courtesy Loft Art Gallery.

Through a collaborative process that proposes to engage displaced rural communities with their villages of origin, Amina Agueznay, in collaboration with Cooperative Tiskmad, recreates four portals typical to the architecture of the Ksar, an Amazigh fortified village in Tissekmoudine, Morocco.

Employing traditional materials processed in untraditional ways, the material essence of the piece captures the path to the oasis, the texture of the shaved palm husk, the rough-spun un-dyed wool, as well as the architectural elements of the village, which all give way to the unpredictability of the loom.

Louis Barthélemy –– Manhood, Dancer, and Gazelles, 2022-2023.

In this triptych of hand-embroidered tapestries, Louis Barthélemy captures the rural landscapes and gender representations of Ancient Egypt. Surrounded by the lush foliage of a vibrant palm grove and frolicking gazelles, a muscle man and an ancient dancer leap side by side, their forms suspended in mid-air. The timeless elegance of the dancer, as depicted in the tomb in Saqqara, acts as a nod to the works of modern Egyptian painter Hamed Nada.

Made in collaboration with brother and sister Nejib and Zahra and seven other artisans in Mahdia, Tunis, the tapestries incorporate embroidery, weaving, and dyeing techniques that date back to the 10th century traditional stitches are combined with innovative materials like agave and metal. 

IBKKI –– The Process Collection II, 2023.

These ceramic pieces were created as a result of a geographical transit between Algeria, where the forms were turned, and France, where they were glazed and fired, often multiple times. The forms and glazes are inspired by the Algerian natural landscape. 

Sama El Saket –– Clay in Context, 2023.

The Jordanian landscape features a plethora of local clay deposits and a long history of ceramic production. Despite this, most of the clay used in Jordan today is imported.

This long-term research project aims to uncover sites of clay harvesting by referencing geological maps, participating in conversations with craftspeople, and locating historic workshops. The origin and composition of each clay was examined, and a series of preparation techniques were tested, resulting in a range of textures and outcomes.

The series of vessels present the resulting distinct clays found in Jordan, reflecting the subtle color gradations of the landscape. The repeated form references spindle storage bottles, a typology produced across different periods and regions in Jordan, originally used to safeguard valuable oils, perfumes, and medicines. 

Hozan Zangana –– Nahiru Bench, 2023, photo by Erik & Petra Hesmerg.

These pieces draw inspiration from ancient sculptures hailing from our region, emphasizing our cultural history as an integral aspect of our individual and collective identities.

The bench represents the shape of an ancient mythical Assyrian creature called the Nahiru. This 'sea-horse' or 'river-horse' has often been understood by scholars to relate to a hippopotamus, a symbol of both chaos and fertility, as it's known for fiercely protecting its young.

Nader Gammas –– Shard Floor Light, 2021, photo by Sebastian Bottcher.

The Shard Floor Light features a distinctive cantilevered structure comprising a base, arm, and light source. The heavy steel base draws inspiration from artist Alexander Calder's minimalist panels for his floor mobiles, while the articulated brass arm provides essential support for the arc. The shades, inspired by mineral crystalline structures, are made from fiberglass, lending texture and weight to the piece.

Abeer Seikaly –– Constellations 2.0, 2023, photo by Emanuele Tortora.

This suspended light sculpture is handcrafted from over 5,000 pieces of Murano glass, linked together to form one continuous mesh. 

It draws upon intangible heritage from both Italy and the Arab homeland, merging traditional Venetian glassmaking and Bedouin weaving practices.

During the making process, different forces of tension and compression were applied to the mesh, until it reached a point of balance. The result is a torus—a recurring shape in nature, and the proposed shape of the universe. The fabric mesh is flexible, stretchable, and compressible, like spacetime itself.

When illuminated, the sculpture generates cosmological patterns of light and movement, reminiscent of a starry night sky in the wilderness of the Badia desert.

Samer Selbak –– Reef and Saffeer, 2022.

The Reef space divider and Saffeer pendant lamps are crafted from dyed luffa fibers which have been treated, shaped, flattened, and sewn. The resilient and biodegradable plant fiber permits the passage of air and light, giving a mystical presence. The pieces are supported by steel armatures, which simultaneously provide form and function.

Fabraca Studios –– Light Impact, 2022, photo by Roudy Farrane.

This work grapples with the challenge of designing in a city that is constantly shifting. It was originally commissioned by Karim Bekdache Studio to replace a shattered glass chandelier by the New York-based designer Lindsay Adelman, which was destroyed in the aftermath of the 2020 Beirut explosion. Located at a vantage point overlooking the blast site and guided by the principle that "what bends doesn't break", the aim was to create a flexible and enduring lighting fixture, resilient against future shocks.

The design sought to merge the roughness reminiscent of warfare with the grace and sophistication typically associated with chandeliers. This balance was achieved through the choice of solid aluminum for the interconnected modular cylinders, evoking the appearance of a rope. The final piece comprises over a hundred of these cylinders, linked by spherical joints. Light Impact merges tradition and modernity, mirroring Beirut's spirit of resilience and adaptability.

Ali Kaaf –– Helmet, 2024.

The Helmet series is a collection of blown glass sculptures inspired by ancient war-time headgear from a diversity of historical moments. Despite these helmets being used by fighters of different cultures and across time, they often share the same destiny of becoming relics at museums. For the artist, the choice of material adds fragility to an immortal object that remains resilient throughout history, unlike the humans it served to protect. 

T SAKHI –– Whispers from the Deep, 2023, photo by Lorenzo Basadonna Scarpa, Courtesy of T SAKHI.
This oceanic installation artfully evokes the impression of underwater sea creatures. To capture the textures reminiscent of marine bodies, they sourced various types of discarded metals from factories in the Veneto region infused with glass. The experiments yielded a diverse range of subaquatic formations and textures that enable light to permeate the translucent metal-infused glass and create captivating reflections and shadows.
Crafted in Murano, an epicenter of glassmaking for centuries past, the pieces draw connections and shared knowledge between the Venetian lagoon and glassblowing heritage in Lebanon, tracing back to the Phoenicians throughout the Mediterranean.

Christian Zahr Studio –– Coffee Table, Bookshelf, and Chair, 2021, photo by Ieva Saudargaite.

These furniture pieces were developed during the 2020 pandemic in a moment of warped temporality, where, according to the designer, “memories of a ruinous past coincided with undecidable futures.” During the lockdown, the urge to return to nature provoked a rethinking of the relationship between humans and interiors. Zahr envisioned homes transformed into caves, and rooms into intimate primitive landscapes. 

These handmade objects were sculpted by hand but textured by nature by means of drops of water. The objects are an agglomeration of the unpredictable and the predesigned, with forms that are at once archetypal and fictional, archaeological and geological.

Naqsh Collective –– Green Bridal Chest, The Shawl, 2023.

Traditionally, bridal chests were integral to any wedding ceremony, and accompanied new brides as they prepared for their new homes. This bridal chest was created in celebration of the designers’ niece and was embroidered with traditional Palestinian patterns depicting flora and fauna in the region. The selected patterns have been compiled through a process of diligent research and documentation of Palestinian heritage. Reacting to the threat of erasure of this craft, the designers make works that eternalize these patterns in stone.

david/nicolas –– Constellation C080, 2018.

Constellation C080 dining table is a piece from david/nicolas's Supernova collection. Crafted from travertine slabs and adorned with intricate esoteric brass symbols, it stands as a testament to the designers’ deep fascination with the cosmos.

Inspired by the transformative power of a supernova, in which the death of a star gives birth to new astronomical life, this piece reflects on the beauty of regeneration. In the C080, this concept is translated into large masses of dense matter and studies of form and void, rendered in travertine and brass. The hemispherically-shaped legs are rotated in alignment with the lunar cycle.

Hamza Kadiri for Ateliers Courbet –– Sculptural Console, 2023, photo by Alessio Mei.

This sculptural console is entirely hand-carved by Kadiri. In a process that unites two opposite forces, one seemingly destructive, the other restorative, the wood is first exposed to sudden bursts of flame, then brushed smooth as it cools. 

Anastasia Nysten –– Troll Chair, Troll Footrest, and Troll Bench 2017-2018, photo by Marco Pinarelli.

In the Troll collection, de-constructivism is married to amorphic softness. A wooden structure, hand-carved by artisans, acts as the skeleton for loosely stacked pillows.