Three of the best… Regional designers at Design Days Dubai

One of the key pillars of DesignFix is to highlight the exceptional emerging designers in the region, and give them a public platform to showcase their work and talent.

The designer’s that Tanween decide to take to Design Days Dubai always catch our eye, and this year it’s no different. Tashkeel, an art and design organisation based in Nad Al Sheba, launched Tanween in 2013, an initiative that helps to support local designers and their work that’s inspired by traditions and materials indigenous in the UAE.

Three years later and it’s nine-month mentorship programme has once again nurtured the creative talents of three distinct designers, and their works of art and design that give fading local traditions and craft a new lease of life.

For Design Days Dubai 2016, held at The Venue, Downtown Dubai, between March 14 to 18, Amer Aldour, Zuleika Penniman, and the founders of Studio MUJU, Mentalla Said and Jumana Taha, all debuted innovative pieces.

Zuleika Penniman, Tashkeel, Design Days Dubai, Tanween, DesignFix, coral, regional designers, Dubai design
Zuleika Penniman with her coral wall sketches
coral, wall, building, construction, UAE, regional design, Zuleika Penniman, Tashkeel, Tanween, Design Days Dubai
Even sliced to 7mm coral is strong enough for construction

Zuleika stepped out of her comfort zone of jewellery design to build a partition wall that echoes the traditional building materials of the UAE. This ‘bijoux d’éspace’ echoes the times when men and women collected coral washed up on the country’s beaches, and cemented their found treasure between mortar and plaster. Zuleika has suspended thin slices of coral, held like gemstones, within a light metal framework that recalls a broken brick and coral structure.

“The walls of such homes are quickly eroding and disappearing, so I am eager to explore this material and its context before it’s too late,” she says. “The partition calls on the porosity and fragility of the coral material. By slicing it so thin, I am exposing its intricate patterns that appear so delicate but are, in fact, the core strength and structure of the rock. I am juxtaposing this natural, magnificent material with its historic appropriation in the region as an essential building material.”

The Lebanese-American designer worked with three manufacturers in the local vicinity, none of whom had worked with coral before. A marble factory cut and polished the rock and an industrial metalworking factory made the supportive structure, both based in Al Quoz. Lastly, a jewellery workshop in Deira’s gold souk set the claws that hold the coral.

Studio MUJU, Mentalla Said, Jumana Taha, Um Ahmed, Design Days Dubai, Tashkeel, Tanween, sadu, weaving, traditional craft, regional design, artisanal, UAE design, Emirati design
Jumana and Mentalla with Emirati sadu weaver Um Ahmed

Mentalla and Jumana of Studio MUJU revisited the ancient Bedouin art of Sadu weaving in their furniture and lamp designs. “When we heard about the Tanween programme and how it encourages working with a local crafts person, we thought it was the perfect place to start designing our own products that are inspired and made solely in the UAE,” say the duo. As the older members of society decline in number so, too, do the people that practice Sadu in the Emirates. Having been added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it is in urgent need of safeguarding. Mentored by Emirati weaver Um Ahmed, they watched her henna-inked hands hypnotically work her loom, and became to appreciate the importance and intricacy of the process. “Her selfless dedication and passion towards this fading art form instigated within us a new level of responsibility to help protect and preserve it as contemporary designers.”

“Our floor lamp is a direct ode to the process of weaving, with the shade acting as a loom with lengths of yarn stretched and stitched into traditional patterns, giving the visual effect of the weaving process being frozen in time. We then juxtaposed the delicate woven fabric with contemporary materials such as cast concrete, metal and timber.”

Amer with a digitally generated Analogue Arabesque installation
Amer creating his tile design for Design Days Dubai

Amer Aldour approaches Tanween’s brief from a different direction, celebrating ‘the art of imagineering’. “I didn’t approach the design in a classic way, using elements related to our environment or culture,” he says. “Instead, I was inspired by the context of Dubai as a city of the future. I also questioned how Arabesque patterns from the 17th century would look like in the 21st, using the advancement of technology.” The designer, trained in architecture and and engineering and the founder of inter | act architecture studio in Dubai, experiments with new techniques of production and prototyping including 3D printing and CNC fabrication, and their application in contemporary design. His set of decorative glass and steel tiles for Design Days Dubai 2016 explores the interface between technological innovations and architectural space, using 3D printed elements and electronic components to make the prototype at Origin Base in Al Quoz. They feature a spiral pattern, which, says Amer, is inspired by mathematical and Arabesque patterns. “It has become second nature to be inspired by the region and its history and culture,” he adds. “We are contextualised by where we live and its ingrained into our aesthetic, of what we value as beautiful and appealing. It is part of our collective identity and I am trying to represent it in a contemporary way.”

Studio Bint Thani, Amer Aldour, DesignFix, Design Days Dubai, Tahskeel, Tanween, dress, plastic dress, Urban Corp
Urban Corp: Amer Aldour’s collaboration with Studio Bint Thani

Visit Design Days Dubai 2016 between March 14 and 18, at The Venue, Downtown Dubai.

Design Fix Editorial Team

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