It’s an installation that occupies pride of place in Dubai Design District. Passersby often stop and marvel at how its gradient layers of painted steel come together in a visual sleight of hand, to create portraits of Dubai’s two leaders within one piece: His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his son, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum.
For Mustafa Khamash, CEO and founder of Kart Group, and the creative talent behind Vision| Mission, the installation’s mise en abyme technique is like looking at Dubai’s leadership and cultural values through the prism of two generations.
Khamash’s team played with pixel and vectors, 2D and 3D software, simplifying the contours yet modelling maximum details to create these intriguing portraits. It typifies Khamash’s approach to design: using technology to distill culture, and create objects and spaces that stand the test of time.
“This year is shaping up well,” Khamash says, as we settle for a chat in his d3 office with its view of the sun dappled alley where Vision | Mission stands. The upbeat optimism around Expo 2020 has permeated the Kart Group as well. The firm was invited to compete for the interior design of the UAE Pavilion, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to resemble a falcon in flight. Kart Group is working on a scheme for the VIP lounge area of the four-storey building.
“Undoubtedly, winning the bid for Expo 2020 has secured Dubai’s place in history as the first host city in the Middle East for a World Expo,” Khamash enthuses. “Almost 25 million visitors are expected in the city, 70 per cent of whom will be coming from outside the country. We are going to see some phenomenal architecture and design in and around the Expo site – we already have big name architects such as Sir Normal Foster and Santiago Calatrava designing pavilions for participating countries.”
Khamash believes in the transformative effect of this fresh wave of design thinking and projects coming up. But based on his 16 years of practicing architecture and interior design in the city, he was also keenly aware that more needs to be done to support design education.
Last year Khamash sponsored a Dh390,000 scholarship for students at the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) – in collaboration with Dubai Holding. “Definitely there is a shortage of young talent to work in the industry and that can hold back the growth of the creative economy. Young designers are our future, and as seniors in the industry, we all have a role to play in discovering and nurturing talent. I had this in mind when we announced the scholarship.”
A scholarship student himself, Khamash knew the transformational power that student aid could have on a young person’s life. After the DIDI scholarships, he used the immense power of the creative arts for doing good with another initiative at last year’s Dubai Design Week.
On November 11, Kart Group unveiled MBR – an incredible installation paying homage once again to Dubai’s visionary leadership.
Imagined by Khamash, and realised in pure wool and silk by third-generation carpet gallery Iwan Maktabi, MBR is a multi-layered portrait of Sheikh Mohammed.
Unveiled during Downtown Design, the installation was a part of d3’s Design for Good initiative. Seven exclusive editions of MBR, handcrafted by Iwan Maktabi made their way to some of the region’s most exclusive art collections. Contributions raised from the collectors are earmarked to support another scholarship at the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI).
“Design can be a powerful force to fix so many things the world is facing today,” Khamash muses. “I say this with humility that as designers, we have a responsibility to use creative thinking to resolve social and cultural issues.
“One of the biggest issues that I feel strongly about is the lack of support for design education in the Arab world. MBR was both my homage to Dubai’s leadership and an urban gesture that aims to have a positive impact on the community at large, while supporting the education of underprivileged students.”
Passionate about art and sculpture, Khamash has created many commissioned pieces for clients’ residences and palaces. In 2020, this occasional dabbling in art has become a full-fledged division of the Kart Group.
While designing palatial residences in the region for clients who cannot be named, Khamash keenly felt the absence of authentic, modern and versatile accents that distilled the essence of Arab culture, without resorting to pastiche. Unable to source the kind of bespoke pieces he wanted, Khamash was inspired to create his own line.
From the classic sketches on a napkin, the bespoke furniture line has now grown into a serious and sustainable line of business, with culture at its heart.
The line was launched with the limited-edition Nightingale of the Nile, a side table inspired by one of Khamash’s heroes, the legendary diva Umm Kalthoum. Handcrafted in sustainably sourced teakwood, the drum-shaped piece features an elegant scalloped edge and lyrics from the Umm Kalthoum classic, Enta Omri, inscribed in Arabic inscribed around the base.
“With this side table, our intention was to create a versatile, elegant accent that can move easily from outdoors to indoors. Nightingale of the Nile pays homage to a diva who is loved all over the Arab world.”
The striking aspect of Khamash’s designs is that they are rooted in the region, without resorting to clichés. This is something that he feels strongly about. “Applying Arabic motifs just because they are trendy but do not have any function or meaning is not what we do. We don’t need to indulge in this kind of pastiche. In Kart Group’s award-winning project, Dubai’s Ministry of Cabinet Affairs office, we developed the idea of a contemporary mashrabiya, in sustainable materials. It’s fresh and functional – working to screen off a space within the office.”
Next up is a line of carpets, designed by Kart Group and realised by Beirut-based Iwan Maktabi. Noted for high-profile collaborations with designers such as Jan Kath, Iwan Maktabi combines the traditional with modern in high-quality handmade carpets.
Prior to founding Kart Group, Khamash worked with Zaha Hadid for the Architectural Biennale of Venice and Scandinavian Pavilion projects, as well as Philippe Starck for his private residence, consolidating his solid international experience in the luxury interior design industry.
“From my education in Italy and working with great designers, one thing I have learned is that speed is the enemy of great design. Thoughtful attention to detail and quality construction will take time. It takes time to develop a design that will help save costs in the long run.”