Through the keyhole: Dubai Design Week’s Abwab show highlights Saudi Arabia, India, Lebanon

Updated 13 November 2019

Through the keyhole: Dubai Design Week’s Abwab show highlights Saudi Arabia, India, Lebanon

  • Abwab, which translates to “door” in Arabic, is returning for the fifth edition of Dubai Design Week (DDW) from Nov. 12-1
  • This year, the annually remodeled exhibition invited artists hailing from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and India

DUBAI: Abwab, which translates to “door” in Arabic, is returning for the fifth edition of Dubai Design Week (DDW) from Nov. 12-16. A key exhibition for nurturing design talent from across the region, Abwab offers a platform for emerging as well as established artists and creatives to showcase their work. 


“What we do is try to reflect the creative landscape of what’s happening in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia every year, which is constantly evolving” Rawan Kashkoush, creative director of Dubai Design Week and curator of Abwab, told Arab News. 


Since its inception in 2014, the installation has displayed works from more than 170 designers.




A rendering of Saudi Arabia's installation at Dubai Design Week. (Photo: Supplied)


This year, the annually remodeled exhibition invited artists hailing from countries that DDW felt “had a really strong presence in the creative landscape,” Kashkoush noted. Designers from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and India were tasked with interpreting the theme of “ways of learning” in their own creative and unique way. 


Instead of recruiting an UAE-based interior or architecture studio to build the outer shell of the exhibition, as they do each year, DDW commissioned designers from each of the selected countries to fully conjure up the exterior and interior.




Shahad Alazzaz met up with local craftsmen from the eastern provinces of the Kingdom to preserve the vanishing craft of palm frond weaving. {Photo: Turki Alangari)


Participating artists include Shahad Alazzaz, founder of Azaz Architects, a Riyadh-based design firm, Lebanese-Polish sisters Tessa and Tara Sakhi of multidisciplinary design studio T SAKHI and Mumbai-based Busride Design Studio, a Goa-based architecture firm helmed by brothers Ayaz and Zameer Basrai.


For Saudi Arabia’s pavilion, which is supported by Ithra, Alazzaz met up with local craftsmen from the eastern provinces of the Kingdom to preserve the vanishing craft of palm frond weaving. The result is a larger-than-life, 13-meter-long suspended surface, which is made up of various textiles of different colors, textures and sizes that were painstakingly handmade by local artisans before being intricately woven together. “The idea is to take a very traditional fabric and transform it into a building material,” explained Kashkoush. 




Shahad Alazzaz and a local artisan. (Photo: Turki Alangari)

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s installation is entitled “WAL(L)TZ.” Since the Arab country is congested with physical barriers such as barbed wire and fenced spaces, the installation takes the form of an interactive wall crafted out of recycled foam — a nod to the resilience of the Lebanese people — that invites visitors to interact and connect with each other via cracks and holes. “The concept is metaphorically breaking down barriers,” said the curator. 




Lebanon's installation takes the form of an interactive wall crafted out of recycled foam. (Photo: Supplied)


Lastly, “Qissa Ghar,” India’s pavilion, is the brainchild of the interior firm responsible for some of India’s most trendy restaurants. Since the country’s main way of transferring information and preserving their sense of identity is through story-telling and myths, the designers commissioned seven artists to translate these myths into illustrations, which were then embroidered directly onto handmade qadi fabric that was stitched into lanterns creating an illuminated web of stories.




India's pavilion is entitled “Qissa Ghar,” which means "house of stories". (Photo: AFP)

 


Saudi Arabia’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex puts Arabic calligraphy under global spotlight

Saudi Arabia’s renowned Dar Al-Qalam Complex is home to hundereds of samples of calligraphy work. (Arab News)
Updated 19 February 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex puts Arabic calligraphy under global spotlight

  • Go behind the scenes at Saudi Arabia’s renowned Dar Al-Qalam Complex as we celebrate the Year of Arabic Calligraphy

MADINAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture declared 2020 the Year of Arabic Calligraphy and the Madinah-based Dar Al-Qalam Complex has revealed plans to become an international institute granting certificates of competence in Arabic calligraphy.

Ali Al-Mutairi, head of the cultural activity department at the General Directorate of Education in Madinah and supervisor of the Dar Al-Qalam Complex, spoke to Arab News about the institution’s key activities and aims.

The Dar Al-Qalam Complex at night. (Supplied)

Madinah’s Dar Al-Qalam Complex has become a magnet for culture vultures with its art gallery, educational images and documentation unit, historical theater and Ethar center for scouting and volunteer services. But the undoubted gem of the institution is its renowned calligraphy center.

Supervisor Ali Al-Mutairi said that the director general of education, Nasser Al-Abdulkareem, planned to turn the complex into an international calligraphy center.

Madinah-based Dar Al-Qalam Complex has revealed plans to become an international institute granting certificates of competence in Arabic calligraphy. (Supplied)

“With the support of Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman, we at the education department have plans to develop the Arabic calligraphy center to make it an institute that grants scientific licentiates in Arabic calligraphy. To do this, we are planning to attract top Islamic calligraphers from all over the world,” Al-Mutairi added.

And attracting talent from across the globe should not be too much of a challenge, considering the complex’s history.

The complex features an art gallery, educational images and documentation unit, historical theater and more. (Supplied)

Exploring the Dar Al-Qalam Complex’s storied past

According to Al-Mutairi, the history of the Dar Al-Qalam Complex is closely linked to the Taibah Secondary School, one of the first schools of its kind in Saudi Arabia.

“Taibah school was founded in 1942, and students were later transferred to the Dar Al-Qalam building, which has been serving as the school’s new location since its inauguration by the late King Saud bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud in 1962,” he told Arab News.

Al-Mutairi pointed out the role played by Prince Faisal and his deputy governor, Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal, in the development of the complex.

The Dar Al-Qalam Complex is closely linked to the Taibah Secondary School, one of the first schools of its kind in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“Prince Faisal inaugurated the complex in its current style in 2013 at a ceremony attended by the former minister of education at the time, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al-Saud.

“Since then, the Ministry of Education, represented by the General Directorate of Education in Madinah, has attached great importance, care and support to the complex, turning it into a beacon for science and education in the Madinah region,” he said.

Raising awareness about Madani calligraphy

Authorities in the region have also declared a special focus on local culture and art, with the Madinah Development Authority launching an initiative in August 2015 to preserve the homegrown Madani form of calligraphy.

Well-known calligrapher and supervisor of the Arabic calligraphy committee at the Madinah branch of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts (SASCA), Bandar Al-Amri, said: “Historically, the Madani script is an extension of the Makki form of writing, which the Quraish tribe first used in Makkah.

The Madinah Development Authority launched an initiative in 2015 to preserve the homegrown Madani form of calligraphy. (Supplied)

“Nowadays, there are copies of the Holy Qur’an that were written in the Madani style. These copies are kept in many libraries and museums, such as the national library of France, in Paris, and the Berlin library.

“The Madinah region is rich in early Islamic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of its mountains and water stream banks. The inscriptions were found along the caravan ways that used to go through the city. What distinguishes these from other inscriptions is that most of them are for the people of Madinah or those who have settled here,” Al-Amri added.

The Madinah region is rich in early Islamic inscriptions engraved on the rocks of its mountains and water stream banks. (Supplied)

“These inscriptions are not limited to men, there are also inscriptions for women. Some of them include Qur’anic verses, prayers, notes, poems and news inscriptions, and those engraved in Madani fonts are found on the rocks of the valleys of the Madinah area.”

Read more about Arabic calligraphy’s Madani script here.

Training a new generation

One of the complex’s primary aims is to train a new generation of calligraphers in a bid to keep the art form alive and engage with talented calligraphers.

Head of the male student activity department at Madinah’s General Directorate of Education, Abdullah Al-Zahrani, told Arab News that the aim was “to introduce the beauty of Arabic calligraphy to our teachers and students of both genders.”

One of the complex’s primary aims is to train a new generation of calligraphers. (Supplied)

His counterpart in the female student activity department, Layla Al-Amri, said: “The specialized calligraphers, their workshops and fully equipped training halls, all help our female students improve their hand lettering.”

Bassam Al-Sa’idy, an eighth-grade student, said calligraphy works at his school had caught his eye from when he first learned to read.

“The handwriting of the Qur’an by Uthman Taha (Syrian calligrapher) also attracted my attention. I was determined to learn Arabic calligraphy.

Various copybooks of renowned calligraphers for different scripts are used as part of the center’s curriculum. (Supplied)

“My school organized a handwriting training course and I joined that course, after which we received an invitation to visit the Dar Al-Qalam Complex. They welcomed us, and me and my colleagues began to learn Ruq’ah script and the Nuskh scripts,” added Al-Sa’idy.

“So far, I have nearly mastered the scripts of Ruq’ah and Nuskh, and I will soon begin studying the Ottoman script so that I can make my dream of becoming a Qur’an calligrapher come true.”

Calligrapher Adel Barri said that various copybooks of renowned calligraphers for different scripts were used as part of the center’s curriculum.

"Our main goal is to make them acquire the skills of this art," says calligrapher Adel Barri. (Supplied)

“We use the copybooks of the prominent Iraqi calligrapher Mohammed Ezzat in teaching the Diwani script. We also use the copybooks of the Turkish calligrapher Mehmed Shevki Efendi to teach Nuskh and Thuluth scripts. These two names are references in their field,” Barri added.

“We are here ready to provide them (the center’s students) with everything they need for free. Our main goal is to make them acquire the skills of this art.”