Breathing new life into Emirati traditions at the London Design Fair

Dubai Design District showed off local talent (Image Supplied)
Updated 26 September 2018
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Breathing new life into Emirati traditions at the London Design Fair

  • Visitors to the London Design Fair held last week had the opportunity to see a wealth of talent from around the globe
  • The four-day industry event brought together 550 exhibitors from 36 countries

LONDON: Visitors to the London Design Fair held last week at The Old Truman Brewery, East London’s revolutionary arts and media quarter, had the opportunity to see a wealth of talent from around the globe. The four-day industry event brought together 550 exhibitors from 36 countries, including independent designers, established brands, international pavilions, features and exhibitions.

Eight designers from the UAE, supported by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, showcased their work at the d3 (Dubai Design District) “UAE Design Stories: The Next Generation from the Emirates” national pavilion.

d3, a hub for inspiration and innovation, is home to the region’s growing talent pool of designers and artists.

D3 Emirati Designers



Under the theme, “Objects of the Past: Today,” d3 invited the designers to draw on the historical archives of the UAE to create modern designs. This meant exploring the region’s nomadic roots and ancestral legacy. Each piece, specially created for the exhibition, curated by Khalid Shafar, opened a window into the past through a contemporary lens.

The designs, including distinctive jewelry, glassware, leather goods, textiles ceramics and furniture, were displayed alongside the archive materials which inspired them, including film and old photographs of Abu Dhabi by Ronald Codrai, giving the onlooker a rich historical perspective on the work.

Arab News spoke to Aljoud Lootah, a multidisciplinary designer based in Dubai, noted for interpreting Emirati culture and traditional craftsmanship through contemporary design. Lootah is the first Emirati designer to have had her work acquired by an international gallery — the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. She produces bespoke objects and collectible designs for government organizations and private companies and has been involved in numerous retail and residential interior projects.

For the London Design Fair she created her “Mandoos” collection featuring beautiful suede-lined, camel leather jewelry boxes and cases inspired by traditional dowry chests and drawing on the art of khoos, or palm weaving.

“The dowry chests had a lot of carving and were embellished with metallic studs. The patterns on my collection are inspired by the traditional Emirati craft of palm-frond weaving used to make items such as mats and baskets,” she said.

Photo Courtesy: National Archive



Lootah was keen to pay homage to khoos, which used to be prevalent and has now largely disappeared. This type of reimagining of Emirati traditional crafts is a hallmark of her work. “I want to tell the story of our rich history and culture through modern designs,” she said.

She was struck by the level of interest in the detail of the pieces shown by visitors to the fair and believes that d3 has provided a great platform to showcase UAE designs.

“I really appreciate what d3 are doing — they have been very supportive,” she said.

We also spoke to Abdalla Almulla, who exhibited his “Tie-In” design, a modular steel tube and node system inspired by traditional Arish or palm-frond housing, which can be used to create room dividers and tables.

“As an architect I was intrigued by the old Emirati Arish houses. To construct them they used two main components: palm fronds and ropes. The steel columns in my designs echo the palm fronds and can be adjusted to whatever height is desired and adapted for different functions, for example a screen, or a side table. Back then palms were a main resource in the UAE — you saw them in roofs, wall partitions and flooring. My modern designs reflect both the form and function of the palm,” he said.

Photo Courtesy: Dubai Municipality



“In Dubai I increasingly see people wanting to invest in specially designed pieces rather than just buying from chain stores. There is a growing awareness and interest in local design and production,” he said.

Almulla received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Woodbury University in San Diego, US, in 2014. For his research based on geometric explorations, he was awarded the Grand Critique Faculty Choice Award and the Best Degree Project Award in Architectural Design.

He has enjoyed showing his work in London. “It was a really great experience to showcase Emirati designs at the London Design Fair, especially as the exhibits raised cultural awareness,” he said.

“The interest expressed by visitors exceeded my expectations. They showed a lot of curiosity in all of our designs.

“d3 has been amazing. From the very beginning, when we were chosen as the Emirati designers, we got support with curation and production — anything we needed. Having the archive material on display alongside our designs made it easy for the visitors to see the correlation between the ancient and modern and added layers of interest to the displays,” he said.

“I think showcasing abroad it is good opportunity to show the world that in our region we are not just consumers — we also make and design and can compete globally,” he said.


Inside Marvel’s biggest movie yet

Updated 22 April 2019
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Inside Marvel’s biggest movie yet

  • As ‘Endgame’ approaches for the Avengers, Arab News talks to three of its biggest stars

DUBAI: For the stars of what could well become the biggest movie ever made — “Avengers: Endgame,” the culmination of 11 years of Marvel storytelling, which opens in GCC cinemas April 24 — there is one rule: You do not talk about “Avengers: Endgame.”

The walls of secrecy surrounding the project are impenetrable. After the last installment of the series, “Avengers: Infinity War,” ended with a shocking twist, leaving half of the Avengers — and the universe at large — dead, fans were anxious to find out what happens next. On their latest world tour to support the film, Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) have turned volleying “Endgame” questions back into a sport.

“I’ve gotten real jaded about it. Now I’m really mean about it. I’m just like, ‘Next!’” Johansson tells Arab News.

“In the beginning of this press tour, we would try to skirt around it in these cute ways.” she continues.

“We’d be apologetic about it,” says Rudd.

“We’ve gotten really rough around the edges,” says Johansson.

“We all know the story. We can’t say anything! It’s hard for us but it’s harder for you. It’s tricky. I feel like early on I decided, what should we talk about?” says Rudd.

“We can talk about other stuff, like manscaping,” says Johansson.

“I’ll never not talk about that!” adds Rudd.

Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) kicked off in 2008 with the release of the first “Iron Man “with Robert Downey Jr., it has evolved, turning characters from footnotes to phenomena. Johansson joined Downey in 2010’s “Iron Man 2” to play Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, a deadly assassin turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. “Avengers: Endgame” will mark her eighth film as the character.

“It’s unprecedented (in cinema) to get the opportunity you really only get working on a very successful TV show — to be able to play a character for a decade of time. We’ve had this luxury of going away and doing other work, and then coming back to these movies, so we’ve all kind of grown,” Johansson tells Arab News.

“I can only speak for my experience, but I feel I’ve grown very much as an actor. I don’t believe I could have played this character in its current state, and certainly as you see her in ‘Avengers: Endgame.’ This is just the right time in my life to be able to play a character that’s fully realized like this, and it very much echoes my own journey as an actor or as a person. Who could have ever imagined that this would be so explosive? It’s crazy. It’s mind-blowing.”

Chris Hemsworth, who first played Thor, a character rooted in Norse mythology, in 2011 and is also about to reach his eighth film, began, as much of the cast did, as a fan.

“The first time that the Marvel universe came into my universe back in Australia, I was sitting there, straight out of high school, watching ‘Iron Man,’ thinking, ‘Oh my god, imagine. I wish I could be a part of that world.’ And then a few years on, getting cast in it as Thor, having the opportunity to embark on it. At the time I was wondering if this film even going to make it past DVD into the cinemas? Was I going to be recast?”

Like Johansson, Hemsworth also feels his portrayal of his character has improved with each film. With 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” Hemsworth believes he found his voice as the Norse god of thunder, finally able to put his own stamp on it, working with director Taika Waititi in a looser, more improvisational style. The film — a hit with both critics and audiences worldwide — revitalized the character. With “Endgame,” that tone is likely to continue, Hemsworth tells Arab News.

“There was more improvisation in this than the previous one (“Avengers: Infinity War”). The stakes were as high as they could be, but we found a great way to have another version, or more growth in the character, and found something unexpected again. That was so much fun. I’m very thankful that it happened this way, to finish strong, as opposed to the other way around,” says Hemsworth.

Paul Rudd joined the MCU with 2015’s “Ant-Man,” playing Scott Lang, a petty criminal who finds a suit that allows him to grow and shrink at will. Rudd has been the same reliable comic presence he has been since “Clueless” (1995) and “Anchorman” (2004), and if trailers can be trusted, his inclusion in “Avengers: Endgame” will add levity to the serious emotional weight the film promises.

Rudd has enjoyed digging deeper into Lang in each subsequent MCU appearance, also citing Hemsworth’s evolution as Thor as one that he admires.

“Sometimes you finish a movie and when you’re done filming it, you think ‘Oh, now I’d like to start it, because I finally have a sense of the character.’ In this one, there’s several chances,” he says. “Characters morph and grow, as we do as people. I’m different from who I was three years ago or four years ago. You get to know the character more, you get to know the world more, the other actors better, and as a result you get to go even deeper with the character.

“I look at Thor in the first movie and then in ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ and what a crazy amazing journey that character has been on,” he continues. “These films provide the opportunity to explore many different facets of the character.”

As much as the respective performances have evolved during 11 years of the MCU, the cultural landscape and conversation around gender has also moved forward, with audiences much less likely to tolerate female characters who are token or one dimensional. Johansson’s Black Widow has evolved with the times.

“The character started as sort of a sexy secretary with a skillset on the side. We didn’t know, or certainly I didn’t know, how the audience would react to the character, my interpretation of the character, who was obviously a beloved character for a long time. I feel the next time we saw her in ‘Avengers’ (2012) she was sort of one of the boys, for better or for worse, and that made sense then,” Johansson says.

“As the fans and the audiences have pushed Marvel and all the studios and filmmakers to really throw up on the screen what represents what’s going on in the zeitgeist, and wanting to see diverse films and casts that represent their own aspirations and how they feel, the character has sort of grown in reaction to that,” she continues. “And the movies have grown in reaction to that fan encouragement.”