Design Focus: Dubai Design On The Rise

BY Pratyush Sarup / Mar 14 2017 / 20:45 PM

Pratyush Sarup previews the sixth edition of Design Days Dubai, offering an impressive roster of over 50 regional and international galleries and that is once again dedicated to museum quality design objects

Design Focus: Dubai Design On The Rise
Courtesy of Design Days Dubai
New-York based Todd Merrill debuts at the fair with works by designer Niamh Barry
Design Focus: Dubai Design On The Rise
Basalt table by Palestinian sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail of Naqsh
Design Focus: Dubai Design On The Rise
The Crafts Council presents glassware by Pia Wustenberg

It is a year of big changes at Design Days Dubai. From its new home at the Dubai Design District (d3), the fair bids farewell to its Founding Director, Cyril Zammit. Having nurtured the Middle East’s design community for over five years, one of the region’s most beloved design figures leaves the fair in the able hands of William Knight. The former Deputy Director of the London Design Festival, William brings creative and commercial insight to the Emirate's premier design event. “It’s an exceptional time to be working at the forefront of design in Dubai,” says Knight. “I’m hugely excited by the opportunity to develop unique, sustainable and globally relevant creative platforms and to contribute to the swiftly evolving design culture in Dubai.” With that, we look forward to witnessing further growth of the creative industries in the Middle East as well as Knight’s contribution.

The 2017 edition of the fair presents an impressive roster of more than 50 regional and international galleries, in addition to an unprecedented participation from the Middle East. This year also features an exceptional roll call of established and emerging female designers who have used their work to explore their heritage as well as contemporary surroundings. This installment of the fair presents an inclusive view of the world, unified by a singular desire for unbridled self-expression as well as an increasing emphasis on the relationship between tradition and contemporary life. In the following we present the fair’s most exciting segments.

Britain Takes Shape

Bethan Gray's Shamsian Collection explores Omani culture

Taking over the baton from last year’s focus on Dutch design, author, designer, and fairy Godmother of contemporary design, Suzanne Trocmé curates this exhibition of exemplary design featuring pioneers of the British creative industry. Among the highlights are Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard, well known for their ability to translate creativity into simple yet emotionally engaging furniture and product design. Their cutting edge, conceptually rigorous works, such as the Hurricane mirror, are coveted by private collectors and museums alike. Meanwhile, the Norway born, Royal College of Art graduate, Kim Thomé will present works that fuse graphic and product design into an optical play in material and spaces. The award-winning Bethan Gray continues her love affair with Arabia with a new collection developed in collaboration with the acclaimed artist Mohamed Reza Shamsian. “The Shamsian Collection merges traditional craft, including marquetry and solid brass inlay, with modern and elegant, contemporary design to create a truly unique and timeless aesthetic,” says the designer who recently conducted a five-day training programme for 50 female artisans and designers in Jeddah. “Each piece is a contemporary inquiry into traditional Omani living.”

New in 2017

Geraldine Gonzales' Flying Chair installation presented by Parisian gallery Territoire(s)

Each year, the fair provides a platform for a new generation of A-list design galleries to reach a global audience. This year, the esteemed New York Gallery, Todd Merrill makes its Dubai debut at the fair. “We launched the Studio Contemporary in 2008,” says Todd of the establishment mostly known for vintage American design. “The contemporary works are often commissioned and therefore customisation is inherent; we finally felt we are representing a group of artists whose work suits the market in Dubai.” In putting together an evocative exhibition to present at the fair, the gallery focused on artists whose works best represent opulence, luxury and permanence. Territoire(s), the Parisian purveyor of limited-edition collectibles brings one-off and limited edition pieces by French heritage brands and artists. In addition to works by Pierre Vatrin and Pierre Renard, their presentation is headlined by sculptress Geraldine Gonzales’ magical Flying Chair light installation.

Walking by Niamh Barry presented by Todd Merrill

From Dubai, MCML Studio presents a thoughtful edit of high-end original Mid-Century Modern pieces. With an eye for innovative post-war period creations, the gallery will focus on classic designs as well as little-seen rarities of the 1950s to the 1970s, and unusual objets d’art. Also representing the city is ceramic and glass artist Michael Rice who makes his debut with sculptural pieces concerned with form, texture and presence.

No Glass Ceilings

More than 25 Middle Eastern galleries are participating this year, with women designers and gallerists leading the way. Palestinian sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abu Dail return with their label Naqsh Collective. Since it was founded in 2010 in Amman, Jordan, the atelier has become known for unique design pieces characterised by strong geometries, striking a fine balance between a regional aesthetic and international appeal. Doha-based multi-disciplinary designer Aisha Al-Sowaidi bridges Qatar’s city life and its beloved traditions. Through her work she combines the traditional with the contemporary. This year she explores nostalgia with her interpretation of the majlis in the round.

Meanwhile, Shamsa Mohammed Al Abbar, known for her experimental fine jewellery, builds on her acclaimed Token collection featuring diamonds, onyx and mother of pearl. Her new pieces offer possibilities to be transformed according to the wearer’s mood.

Aljoud Lootah presents the Tebr Collection of tableware

A fair and regional darling, Aljoud Lootah will present a new collection of home accessories in porcelain and 14-carat gold, inspired by the antique doors of the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum in Al Ain. “Not only does the fair bring hard-earned exposure to a global audience, it instills confidence in one’s abilities,” says the designer. Testament to the fair’s global influence, pieces from Aljoud Lootah’s Oru series (Design Days Dubai 2015), were acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, making her the first Emirati designer to be part of an international gallery’s permanent collection.


Coletivo Amor de Madre presents new works by Marko Brajovic

The São Paulo-based Coletivo Amor de Madre returns with its brand boasting dynamic and conceptual works underlined by the use of distinguished materials and a rebellion against traditional production techniques. Also on show are Crafts Council UK and Dutch Creative Industry that will present works reflecting the best of their country’s inventiveness and skill at contemporary craft making. Known for their consistently innovative works, collectible rugs impresario Iwan Maktabi presents Jorge Lizarazo’s hand-woven metallic carpets with a six-piece collection featuring copper, aluminium, tin, vinyl and other noble, unexpected materials. Another regional authority on design, Nakkash Gallery celebrates the wealth of nature with its selection of works by Nikita Bettoni, Lucidi Pevere and Saccal Design House, while last year’s scene stealers, MAD Gallery, seek to further cement their repute for cutting-edge mechanical and kinetic art.


In keeping with the fair’s tradition of exemplary installations, the India-based progressive design studio Apical Reform presents Sonuslexica. The never-seen-before work pays homage to the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and the determination of its people, both Emirati and expat. “The city is known for the glitz, glam and high-rises, but we forget that it is the humanity of its people that makes Dubai so unique,” says Amrish Soni, Founder and Principal. “In a divisive world, Dubai remains rooted in peace, celebrates diversity and provides an arena of growth and innovation.” 

A rendering of Sonuslexica by Indian-based progressive design studio Apical Reform

With Sonuslexica, Apical Reform reaffirms nobility as the key to success. The studio explores Sound Wave Technology, recording a cross-section of Dubai-dwellers’ emotional response to the emirate in their native languages. Through a series of planar modulations and digital production, the recordings are manifested as wooden totems representing the words peace, harmony and growth. They compose the base of the installation while a stylised Dubai skyline rises above. In tribute to the Emirate’s rich traditions, a symbolic sand dune at the base promises visitors an introspective moment. “Like an iceberg, Dubai is resilient,” says Amrish. “Sonuslexica is a metaphor for the qualities that make a city, a community and a civilisation great.”

Design Days Dubai runs from 13-17 March at Dubai Design District.