Dubai Design Week: Can forgotten crafts shape the future?

Despite the fast pace of technical design innovation, there is a strong cohort of young designers interested in looking back to move forward at Downtown Design in Dubai

The Palestinian Pavilion at Dubai Design Week (DDW) celebrates the craft of olive wood carving in Bethlehem, in an unorthodox way.

Also known as the ‘Mass Imperfections’ pavilion, it represents the work of one of six MENASA countries in Abwab, a series that means ‘doors’ in Arabic and hopes to open portals into regional design talent under the unifying theme ‘Human Senses’.  

Palestine’s pavilion is unusual in highlighting artisans’ discrepancies and hand-made errors, but the curators are keen to illustrate the traditional element of human touch that is often lost in the modern era of mass production.

Indeed at Bahrain’s Abwab Pavilion, ‘Unearthing’ revives the tradition of hybrid clay production. “The craft of pottery isn’t and cannot be forgotten, yet is overlooked by the recent upcoming generations due to the advancement of technology and the fast pace we are currently living in,” co-curator Othman Khunji says.

Dubai Design Week Mass Imperfections
The Palestinian Pavilion at features the 'Mass Imperfections' exhibition

“The mission of our pavilion is to bridge the gap between the current and upcoming generations and this ancient rich craft, via our user-friendly pottery design interface.” 

Despite the fast pace of technical design innovation, there is a strong cohort of young designers interested in looking back to move forward, says the manager of the Tanween Design Programme from Tashkeel, a hub showcasing the best productions of its alumni artists at DDW.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of materials now,” says Tashkeel’s Manager, Jill Hoyle. “Not just their visual appeal, but also where they come from and who made them. This is ultimately shaping the future of design.” 

Examples from Tanween include furniture designer Rand Albdul Jabbar’s seating inspired by the disappearing craft of traditional dhow building; Zuleika Penniman’s coral work; and Latifa Saeed and Talin Hazbar’s collaborations with a 40-year old terracotta factory in Sharjah.

Learning traditional handicrafts can be a foundation for the young to create new methods and innovate

Sheikha Wafa bint Hasher Al Maktoum, Founder of FN Designs

Moving beyond the Palestinian Pavilion, Salem and Maryam Al-Qassimi from Fikra Design Studio are responsible for curating the UAE Pavilion for Abwab. The couple’s own project ‘The Future Cafeteria’ represents nostalgia for tightly knit local communities.

Elsewhere, vibrant and colourful typefaces abound in the Byahe exhibition that is created by design studio Ape Creative and held at FN Designs, Alserkal Avenue. The exhibition explores the culture and the craft of hand painted lettering on signage and is a celebration of that slowly dying, often overlooked, craft. 

Bahrain’s Abwab Pavilion, ‘Unearthing’
Bahrain’s Abwab Pavilion, ‘Unearthing’ revives the tradition of hybrid clay production

“Craft and digital art go hand in hand these days,” says Sheikha Wafa bint Hasher Al Maktoum, founder of FN Designs. “Learning the skills of traditional handicrafts from the older generation can be a foundation for the young to build their practice to create new methods and innovate.”

The aim is to detach visitors from digital technology and reconnect them back to the authentic, agrees Rollan Rodriguez, the founder of Ape Creative graphic design agency. “Byahe translates as travel and it is about the journey, making a personal connection between different places,” he says.  

The mission of our pavilion is to bridge the gap between the current and upcoming generations and this ancient rich craft

Othman Khunji , Co-curator, Bahrain’s Abwab Pavilion

Sheikha Wafa bint Hasher Al Maktoum also donates artwork to the carpet production and community development programme established by Sheikha Fatima bint Mohammed as part of the ‘Artists for Change’ programme. The aim is to create a sustainable industry for skilled women in Afghanistan and the initiative will be showcased at DDW.

Following the theme in empowering local artisans on a global scale, Turquoise Mountain, operating out of Kabul for over ten years, revives Afghanistan’s traditional crafts and one of its advisors, Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites, will give a keynote speech at DDW. As director of Saray Design, he has worked with master craftsmen across Asia and the Islamic World on commissions such as hand-carved marble, lapis and gold-leaf calligraphy for the expansion of the Grand Mosque, Mecca.  

With such a varied, detailed and authentic selection of artisanal crafts, Dubai Design Week exhibitors remind their visitors of the importance of tradition, craft, and a human touch. Rather than working against modern technology, artisanal designers remind us that ancient techniques and current trends go hand in hand, and that our future is firmly rooted in the past.