Breathing new life into Emirati traditions at the London Design Fair

Dubai Design District showed off local talent (Image Supplied)
Updated 26 September 2018

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.

Blues artist Hindi Zahra pays tribute to her homeland

Updated 16 December 2018

Blues artist Hindi Zahra pays tribute to her homeland

DUBAI: Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra recently bought her mesmerizing brand of music to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where she performed as part of the Rain of Light festival on Friday.
Arab News caught up with the singer, who has been compared the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Patti Smith, before the show to find out more about her foot-tapping style of music and the album that her performances are based on, “Homeland.”
The Paris-based musician pays tribute to her home country of Morocco in the album, which features a mix of English and Amazigh-language tracks.
“It is the country that gave me everything,” the artist, whose stage name is simply her real name inverted, told Arab News.
“It gave me… mixed culture — African culture, Mediterranean culture. My openness toward other cultures comes from my Moroccan roots,” she added.
Hindi was raised on a steady diet of jazz, rock and blues, which she said her uncles collected due to a familial interest in international music.
That could be part of the reason why she is so comfortable performing in multiple languages.
“I am comfortable with both (English and Amazigh), but because I… grew up with a lot of Afro-American music, it was really natural for me to improvise in English.”
In addition to a clear appreciation and understanding of Western jazz and rock music, Hindi spoke fondly about a legendary Egyptian artist whom she said has inspired her.
Abdel Halim Hafez, who worked during the country’s golden age of entertainment between the 1950s to 70s, played an important role in shaping Hindi’s own style.
“I love the way he delivered feelings through music,” she said of the late opera singer who died in 1977.
Imbued with an appreciation for a wide range of international styles, Hindi released her first album when she was 30 years old — even though she says she was ready 10 years earlier.
She waited a decade so she could produce music on her own terms, under her own label, she said.
“I am shocked about the condition of women in the industry, so it was very important for me to be free and to own my music so nobody owns me.”
After all this, her only hope when it comes to performing is “that (the audience) will dance,” she said.
“If I see them enjoying (the) music to the point that they dance, this is the most important.”