Inside the first Design Doha: What to see and what to expect at the biennial

The showcase highlights regional talents and how varying geographies and cultural customs influence Arab design

Sama El Saket's Clay in Context aims to celebrate Jordan's rich clay deposits. Photo: Sama El Saket
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The first Design Doha biennial is under way, offering a host of exhibitions and activations in the city's vibrant creative district.

The biennial in the Msheireb neighbourhood is anchored by the main showcase Arab Design Now, which involves more than 70 regional designers, at M7. It runs until August 5.

Curated by Rana Beiruti, founder of Amman Design Week, Arab Design Now examines how regional designers blend traditional craftsmanship from the region with contemporary design.

The show highlights how varying geographies and customs influence Arab design, with works ranging from material experimentation to thought-provoking installations and product design rooted in sustainability.

“The exhibition was built on dialogues that I've had over the past few years with designers centred around one question: 'What does it mean to create in our region today?'” Beiruti tells The National.

The exhibition consists of both loans and newly commissioned works.

As a whole, the show embraces a multidisciplinary approach, with architectural and artistic practices a part of the conversation in many of the design pieces on show.

“The Arab world is a very diverse place of varying geographies, people, backgrounds, histories and cultures, and we wanted to celebrate that diversity and make sure that we share all of the stories that this rich region has to offer," she adds. "At the same time, in doing this work, I've discovered that there are also such great commonalities that bind us together."

The exhibition’s first section is dedicated to designers exploring a connection to the land, some using natural materials like leather, stone or wood and placing the material at the forefront of their concepts, extending to references about ancient mythology or spirituality found in the region.

Jordanian designer Sama El Saket’s display, Clay in Context, is the result of two years of research on the properties of Jordanian clay. She hopes to provide a local alternative to the mass-imported clay currently used by Jordan’s ceramicists, despite the country having an ancient history of ceramic production.

“The process was done by talking to artisans, researching historical sites of production and looking at geographical maps," El Saket says.

“With the works on show, I repeated the form of this ancient hand-formed vessel but each one shows the different characteristics of the clay varieties, which are sourced from different regions within Jordan.

“The colours are all natural and reflect the different minerals that are found where the clay is harvested, based on its geology."

The colours span greens and yellows from limestone deposits, reds and oranges due to iron oxide or shale and feldspar giving greys and pinks. While imported clays may be more convenient for craftsmen to use, El Saket hopes to inspire them to use local resources again.

The next section takes viewers through more modern methods of crafting, using technology, digital fabrication and computation methods to help perfect design, but still rooted in craft and heritage.

Projects like Amine Asselman’s Metamorphosis utilise geometry and mathematics to create a mosaic-tiled floor, drawing on his doctoral thesis on Tetouan Zellige in Morocco, a unique artisanal technique at threat of disappearing, according to Unesco. It is used to create decorative ceramic tile compilations.

Using a mathematical method to generate an infinite number of geometric figures based on the same rhythm, the hand-cut ceramic tesserae, glazed with mineral oxides and assembled with resin, emulates manmade Moroccan heritage through arithmetic.

Palestinian designer Dima Srouji presents Transparent Histories, a freestanding wall partition depicting a half-real and half-imagined map of Jerusalem carved from stone and inlaid with glass. The work is a continuation of a similar work she created for Jeddah’s Islamic Art Biennale last year.

Srouji says it's inspired by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a Renaissance archaeologist and architect famous for creating a map called the Campo Marzio, which combined existing archaeological plans and archaeological plans from his own imagination, inspired by the monuments of Rome.

“This is what I'm doing with Jerusalem, so you have monuments that are already existing like parts of the Holy Sepulcher; the diamond-shaped zigzags are from the columns of the Dome of the Rock,” she adds. “Then you have other maps from different mosques, churches and tombs in the city, but also imagining my own monuments for a future Palestinian state – public spaces that don't exist yet in Jerusalem, as Palestinian public spaces, that then become archaeological sites 100 years later.”

As Srouji’s great-great-grandfather was a stonemason in Jerusalem, she feels a personal connection between the stone used in the piece and the glass made by Qatari glassmakers, as she called Doha her home for many years.

Naqsh Collective, created by Palestinian sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail, combines traditional Palestinian embroidery with unusual materials. Their stunning version of a bridal chest, crafted in etched green marble and detailed brass decorative elements, celebrated their grandmother’s craft through contemporary design.

“We're mimicking the traditional bridal chest and adding all the details you usually see on a wedding thobe,” says Nisreen.

"The embroidery documents traditions, the local fauna and flora, and the beauty of the land.

“We chose patterns from all over Palestine and the concept was to take embroidery and put it on an eternal or immortal material like marble that will withstand so many things, especially with the current situation in Palestine and the erasure of our culture, this allows us to document our craft in another way and form for generations to come."

Alongside Arab Design Now, M7 is also hosting several exhibitions as part of the biennial, such as Colors of the City: A Century of Architecture in Doha, which explores the city’s architectural evolution in response to global influences, and the 100 Best Arabic Posters Round 04.

More information about the Design Doha biennial is available at designdoha.org.qa

Updated: March 01, 2024, 5:26 AM