Curated by Montreal-born architect Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte in collaboration with Fonderia Artistica Battaglia and Carwan Gallery, the WEHE Collective Design exhibition launched in Athr Gallery, Jeddah on 18 May 2019, has brought together various renowned architects, designers and artists specialising in Middle Eastern design, including Omar Chakil, Karen Chekerdijian, Ghaith&Jad, Rasha Nawam, Mary-Lynn Massoud, Carlo Massoud and Anastasia Nysten. Aptly named, the word Wehe stems from the ancient Egyptian word meaning ‘dwelling place’.
Inspired by sociological and anthropological observations of the urban oasis of Siwa in Egypt, the exhibition explores the relationship between primordiality and the geographical context of the Middle Eastern desert. “I am always fascinated by how local Berber populations managed to adapt tradition with modern lifestyle,” says curator Bellavance-Lecompte. The inspiration behind the exhibition was, as Bellavance-Lecompte says, “to redefine an identity in relation with the region and somehow with materials and techniques that are indigenous. At the same time, I wanted to push the boundaries of their use so we’re able to revisit our perception of these objects.”
Known for his exploration of ancient tribal Iranian culture, Tehran-born artist Taher Asad Bakhtiari uses woven tapestries to highlight the bridge between the traditional and contemporary world. On show are works by Bakhtiari from his notable series entitled Tribal Weaves, which combines ancient Iranian weaving techniques with modern influences.
Once Upon a Monobloc Chair at the WEHE Collective Design exhibition designed by Anastasia Nysten. Courtesy of Athr Gallery and the artist
Also featured are works by Paris-born, French-Lebanese artist Flavie Audi, who refers to future innovations and portrays themes of virtual reality through the sensual manipulation of glass. Representing the evolution of time, the Cloudscape (2016) series by Audi highlights the versatility of materials and colours. “Cloudscape for me explored one of the oldest crafts of glass blowing in such an interesting and alchemic way, obtaining colours with precious metals and creating a very special moment – almost like suspended dreams, reflections and visions about past, present and future,” says Bellavance-Lecompte.
Unveiled at the exhibition is a section dedicated to works in bronze produced by Milan-based Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, for which the participating artists and designers explore the concept of immateriality. Within this section, Audi transformed the shape of Wi-Fi signals into a rock, while Manama-based design collective Bahraini-Danish used worker stools to represent the intricacies of fine craftsmanship and artist Asad-Bakhtiari turned a textile into bronze.
Cloudscape 7.41. 2016. Glass, fine gold, fine silver and steel. 14.5 x 23.5 x 6 cm. Flavie Audi. Courtesy of the artist
Bellavance-Lecompte, who is also a consultant of a residency program in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, has made it his mission to save the abandoned old town of Shali by preserving local traditions. “These primordial dwellings are almost alive; they evolved according to the space needed by their owners and they can be easily enlarged or reduced,” he expresses. “They blend in with the environment and they provide shade and freshness but also warmth at night. Unfortunately, modern urbanisation and standardisation tend to erase such traditions when, from my perspective, they could represent a true ecological alternative and different quality of life.”
The works showcased by the WEHE exhibition prompt visitors to preserve the roots of the desert through technological and cultural efforts to enhance the quality of contemporary living. “The very simple concrete space at Athr gallery was the perfect location to attract this idea of a primordial dwelling,” says Bellavance-Lecompte. “All elements exhibited become almost meditative and generate an invitation to touch, sit, rest or think about their function.”
The WEHE Collective Design exhibition is on show until 27 July at Athr Gallery, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia