Dubai – MENA Herald: Dubai is the focal point of this year’s Beijing Design Week Guest City Programme (24 September-1 October, 2015), presented in partnership with Dubai Design Week, Dubai Design District, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, Falcon and Associates, and art and design organisations Tashkeel and 1971 – Design Space.

Called ‘WASL’ (a reference to Dubai’s former name and the Arabic word for “connection”), the Guest City Dubai exhibition is the first exhibition ever to be solely dedicated to design from the United Arab Emirates, representing a major achievement of the Emirates’ nascent design community.

Curated by emerging designer Moza Almatrooshi, the exhibition is presented in three subchapters that signify the main facets of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates’ identity – Nature States, Domesticity and Urban Metropolis. These subchapters highlight certain characteristics that the designers often grapple onto, not only to draw inspiration from, but also to preserve their cultural essences. The designers’ areas of interest explore the natural landscapes of the United Arab Emirates, as well as enter the domestic lives of its residents; and expose the responses and statements of the designers to their rapidly shifting metropolis. 

“The exhibition unites established designers as well as emerging ones based in the United Arab Emirates, and together they have put forth pieces that speak of formality as well as experimentation in design. Designers in the United Arab Emirates are looking to push the boundaries in all the design disciplines within their reach. Zeinab Al Hashemi is an example of that; as an artist and designer she often applies artistic virtues into her design installations. Zeinab constantly contextualizes her work and employs the use of local materials to construct site specific objects. A further example would be Khulood Thani, who takes fashion design into an explorative scale from Dubai to the world, and is constantly questioning materiality when designing,” says Moza.

Designers include: Khalid Shafar, Aljoud Lootah, Zeinab Al Hashemi, Khulood Thani, Xeina Al Malki, Tinkah, Talin Hazbar, Latifa Saeed and Rand Abdul Jabbar.

Exhibition highlights include: Little Palm Stool and the Palm Coffee Table by Khalid

Shafar, both tributes to the palm, a sacred species in the United Arab Emirates incorporating traditional hand woven mats made of dyed palm leaves; Zeinab Al Hashemi’s Sanam (Arabic for camel hump) – a contemporary rug made from original camel leather; Architecture + Other Things’s Shelter 0, an attempt to explore the potential of recycled materials such as rubber to create spatial conditions that are reminiscent of vernacular Arish (palm frond) desert shelters; Tinkah’s Constructed Feast, a design collection drawing inspiration from the traditional nomadic dining experience and ceremony of eating in the Emirati tradition. Envisaged to be used on a daily basis, the collection is designed not only to bring people together in a traditional manner, but also aims to celebrate the traditional natural materials and resources that is around in the United Arab Emirates, such as sand, clay, pewter, textiles and leather.

‘WASL’ will be held within Beijing’s historical neighbourhood, Dashilar, that Moza believes holds a high resemblance to Dubai’s Al Fahidi district; both have a human-centred layout and mimic the flow and movement of the people occupying their spaces. The courtyards and use of bamboo within architecture is another thread between them, as the courtyard is a central element in Emirati traditional houses, and the palm tree was heavily utilized in architecture. Dashilar resiliently sits in place while the city continuously develops and rises around it. Al Fahidi neighbourhood, as well as other older areas in the United Arab Emirates, are in a parallel situation.

The United Arab Emirates and China are seemingly dissimilar on many levels, yet a deeper look into their cities Dubai and Beijing, the cultural stronghold of their history, heritage, and present reveals that resemblances are not that scarce, and their cultures could easily be bound.The work I have selected for ‘WASL’ reacts to these comparable conditions,” add Moza.  

Moza worked with UAE-based creative agency BOND on the exhibition’s design and identity. Majed Jakka Al Mansoori, one of the Founders of BOND says, “It was important that the identity for the Wasl exhibition linked back to the origins of the word Wasl. Although Al Wasl was the traditional name used for Dubai, it also means connecting, and therefore by using a young and bold type that connects from the base of each letter, and a brushstroke inspired by the date palm to form the symbol of the W, we were able to produce a concept that wasn’t just culturally strong, but has international finesse.”

Beijing Design Week (BJDW) has been named Dubai as Guest City, the first time for a city from the Middle East, in recognition of the emirate’s growing reputation as a global meeting point for the international art and design communities. BJDW Creative Director Beatrice Leanza comments: ‘’The appointment of Dubai as the 2015 Guest City resonates across a wider set of actions BJDW has undertaken to strengthen productive relations within the Asian region and encourage dialogue among its vibrant and diverse design cultures.’’ As part of a reciprocal agreement to foster further cultural exchange, BJDW will be welcomed as a ‘guest international design week’ at the inaugural Dubai Design Week in October this year.