Are regional designers achieving global success?

Support for design and young talent continues to grow in the Middle East with various programmes being launched to push regional designers into the spotlight. And although we are seeing an array of inspiring work regionally, are we pushing local designers toward international success?

When speaking to designers and industry supporters, most claimed that regional design has not yet reached its full potential abroad, with only a few names that are currently speaking for the entire, thriving industry in the region.

Emirati designer Khalid Shafar, founder of the Khalid Shafar brand and KASA showroom in Dubai notes that regional designers need to be more exposed internationally to showcase design from the Middle East.

Associate at Pallavi Dean Interiors, Christina Morgan also added that regional design is “not quite there yet” on a global scale, “even though there is a greater awareness of local talent regionally. We are yet to see home grown brands take centre stage outside of the region,” she said.

Improvement in the quality of design exhibited in the region is something most design-savvy individuals have agreed on. During the DesignMENA Summit last month, one of the talks sparked a discussion about home-grown talent flourishing abroad. Progress within the design industry was agreed upon amongst all the panellists.

“I think we’ve improved as firms in the UAE,” said Isabel Pintado, managing director at LW Design Group. She added: “There’s a substantial increase in quality. And another thing that’s quite influential is the confidence we’ve gained. In the past, there was a section we needed to import designers into the UAE to produce the standard of work that we’re producing now, but that isn’t the case anymore. A lot of our work is now outside of the UAE which is something that we’ve been going after avidly, because we feel we have something to offer.”

Morgan believes that although international acclaim is great for regional designers, it shouldn’t be the end of a success story.

“International acclaim and fame are the next steps and shouldn’t be the end goal. Right now the industry and design community needs to focus on supporting local talent. Shows like Design Days Dubai, Downtown Design, government initiatives like Dubai Design District and industry specific conferences like DesignMENA Summit all serve as an excellent platform for designers to showcase their work and design philosophy,” she says.

Shafar also agreed that the more opportunities are presented to regional designers to showcase their work, the more improvement it will foster within the industry.

“[We need to] create opportunities and platforms for [designers] to travel abroad to showcase their work and connect with industry peers and international brands. [We also need to] make funding available for designers to be able to participate in international platforms and exhibitions,” explains Shafar.

Shafar had recently exhibited his work at the London Design Festival, amongst other regional talents through an exhibition called ‘Middle East Revealed’ organised by Wallpaper* magazine which presented a contemporary exploration of Middle Eastern products design.

Pieces of Shafar’s ‘Illusion’ series were displayed, along with other emerging and established names in the Middle East design industry including Emirati designer, Aljood Lootah. Other designers such as Taher Assad-Bakhtiari, Nada Debs and Fadi Sarieddine were also present at the exhibition, representing countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Iran.

Shafar explained that the exhibition was eye-opening to many visitors who were viewing contemporary design from the Middle East for the first time.

“I always see people associate it with certain attributes, certain styles, certain colours, and I think what we did with this exhibition was give people an idea that Middle Eastern design is not necessarily what people assume it is,” he explains.

“It is not Orientalism, it is not ethnicity, and it is not always classical or glam-and-glow. We can be subtle, we can have simple lines, we can be modern, we can have certain materials that are not always luxurious, but ones that can be rustic. So I think we gave people a good mix of products on display.”

He added that although, the pieces exhibited were representations of contemporary design, the Middle Eastern identity was not at loss.

“Just because we are working with a contemporary style it doesn’t mean that we are losing our identity within our creations. There was always a subtle touch of the Middle Eastern feel in all the products, either in the craftsmanship or the materials, or calligraphy. So there was always a spirit of the region and I believe that we had sent a clear message of this to the public.”

Lama Ben Ayed, founder of creative gallery space Musk and Amber in Tunisia, exhibits works by region talent, established brands and up-and-coming designers.

She commented that exhibitions such as this helps Middle Eastern designers and creativity from the regional gain importance across the globe.

“The perception of Middle Eastern design internationally is gaining importance thanks to exhibitions that are taking place in the Middle East but also worldwide,” she says.

“I think there is a new flair from the Middle East that needs to be joined with the international sphere of design. It is now becoming a new, big family where designers from all continents are unified with one work that is design. This is both challenging and so unexpected and so interesting,” she adds.

Musk and Amber had recently exhibited at Downtown Design, combining works by six Middle Eastern designers from all over the region including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Tunisia.

“The UAE is definitely on the design map,” says Morgan. “We have the world’s tallest tower, an iconic work of modern architecture,” with designers from other parts of the Middle East already rooted in the international design scene.

“We see works of local students from the American University of Sharjah being exhibited at international fairs like Salone Internazionale del Mobile. It is evident design is a huge part of the region’s cultural fabric,” she says.

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