Emirati design and crafts are given a global stage while being shown in a refreshing new light thanks to the vision and efforts of MENASA Emirati Design Platform.
As part of Expo 2020’s Design and Crafts Programme, MENASA (‘platform’ in Arabic) showcases exclusive design collections of over 40 local and international designers. It also features seven exciting design collaborations under the title Craft Stories, and Designer of the Week – a showcase of 24 designers and organisations from across the UAE, highlighting the breadth and vibrancy of the country’s contemporary design scene.
Without a doubt, curating the works was an immense task for the MENASA team, a lengthy conversation between Dr Hayat Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President, Arts and Culture, Expo 2020 Dubai and curator Samer Yamani, who had to make sure the collection being presented is a collective voice representing all the Emirates.
Yamani’s curatorial approach was based on exploring the materials and a sense of place from diverse Emirati landscapes.
Each story presented is a multi-layered journey reflecting the many facets of the UAE – its landscape, people, traditions, values and identity. To visually translate the rich artisanal traditions of the region, a series of documentaries are exhibited alongside the design collections. Offering the audience an intimate tour of the artisan’s world, the videos cover crafts and traditions, including clay, safeefa (palm frond weaving), talli (embroidery), Al-Sadu (Bedouin weaving), gargour making (wire-crafted fish traps), pearl diving and coffee making.
The merging of traditional crafts and new materials and processes is beautifully mastered in the pieces and collections on display. Yamani explains how the two complement each other in the process of positioning local crafts in the modern creative space. “Design needs crafts to make it more human, more real, more local, and with a greater environmental awareness. Equally, craft needs design to open a world of new possibilities, and to explore how it can occupy a new position in contemporary society.” However, it is with the help of new technologies, innovative materials and robotic production processes that the boundaries of possibilities are being pushed.
Yamani adds: “Craft represents the human pleasure in the act of creation, and the high level of excellence a material can achieve when shaped by human hands. This is, of course, thanks to the skills and knowledge of an artisan. Craft has the power of eloquently communicating a local culture, telling the stories of a nation and its identity through everyday objects.”
The future of design and contemporary crafts in the UAE is highly promising and this programme is paving the way forward. The beautifully curated selection of designers and crafts organisations at MENASA was drawn for 11 countries across four continents: Al Ghadeer UAE Crafts, Alia Bin Omair, Ammar Kalo, Bil Arabi, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council, Khalid Shafar, and Tashkeel. International designers and design brands include BD Barcelona Design (Spain), Estudio Campana (Brazil), Iwan Maktabi (Lebanon), Klove Studio (India) and Nicolas Jebran (Lebanon).
8,000 Waves: The Pearl Diving Story is a captivating collaboration between the Spanish design studio, Todomuta, and Asateer, an Emirati design studio – founded by MohammedAl Suwaidi, the grandson of a pearl diver that specialises in mother of pearl handcrafted products. This teamwork brings forth an exciting range of home collectibles, that includes a wall sculpture, limited edition candleholders and incense burners.
The traditional Emirati weaving of palm fronds, Safeefa, was revisited by São Paulo-based designers Fernando and Humberto Campana, which resulted in a well worth reunion. Created especially for MENASA, they conceived Tramado, cactus-inspired sculptures which are graced with such pleasing organic shapes while sharply remaining faithful to their designer studio ethos. Working with natural fibres and dyes, the baskets were woven in the Philippines by a local fair-trade crafts organisation.
The dominating element of the Gulf, sand and the various shapes it takes forming transverse ridges alternating crescentic elements inspired Indiabase lighting atelier, Klove Studio, whose mastery over artisanal glass sculpting was partnered with Al Ghadeer UAE Crafts. Their collaboration brought forward Desert Rose, a monumental lighting installation composed of pottery and glass blown forming a unique petal structure.
The collaboration between the acclaimed carpet atelier Iwan Maktabi and Barcelona-based architect and digital innovator Edouard Cabay, marries historic craft with cutting-edge robotic production in Ten to One. Using motion capturing tech, the team recorded the hand gestures of women practising the Emirati craft of Sadu, an ancient tribal weaving craft originating from the Bedouins of the desert – generating a series of digital impulses. Their hand movements created a new form of digital poetry induced by their pure impulsive trained repetition. The result is a carpet that features the hand movement of craftsmen, blown up ten times their scale. Hence the name of the collection.
‘Sadu over Fishnet’, the main piece, depicts the fisherman’s hand movement in woven Econyl, hand knotted in Nepal. Then, the Sadu weaver’s hand movement is added as ink deposited by the movement of an ink spewing robot.
Design pieces are also available for sale from MENASA’s design space located at the ground level of the Rove Expo 2020 hotel, next to Al Wasl Plaza for the duration of Expo 2020.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #57