Dubai continues to leverage design and innovation to transform into a knowledge-based economy. We speak to the individuals helming the entities who are aiming to catapult the city into the region's foremost design destination with a global reckoning. In our fifth interview in the series, we speak to Lisa Ball-Lechgar, deputy director, Tashkeel.
How is Tashkeel working to nurture the local design community?
Tashkeel seeks to provide a nurturing environment for the growth of contemporary art and design practices rooted in the UAE. Through multi-disciplinary studios, workspaces and galleries, it enables creative experimentation and dialogue among industry professionals and the wider community.
Operating on an open membership model, Tashkeel’s annual programme of training, residencies, workshops, talks, exhibitions, international collaborations and publications, aims to boost development, public engagement and lifelong learning within the creative industries.
Our organisation is committed to enabling UAE-based designers to pursue sustainable careers and, in turn, contributing to the ongoing growth of the national design industry. Alongside a year-round programme of design workshops and exhibitions for professionals and the wider community, we also invest in initiatives that will unite, connect and elevate industry practitioners.
One of our areas of focus is growing the market for UAE-made products such as the Tanween design programme, the Tanween collection, Make Works UAE and the Van Cleef & Arpels Emergent Designer Prize.
Since Tashkeel was founded in 2008 by Her Highness Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum, we have invested in numerous UAE-based designers through training, exhibitions and commissions. Notable among these are Salem Al Mansoori, Zeinab Al Hashemi, Khalid Shafar, Aljoud Lootah, Alya Sultan Al Eghfeli, Amer Aldour and Latifa Saeed from the UAE. On a regional and international level, we’ve worked with Hala Al-Ani, Hatem Hatem and Rand Abdul Jabbar from Iraq, Renad Hussein and Hamza Omari from Jordan, Lujain Abulfaraj from Saudi Arabia, Lujaine Rezk and Studio Muju from Egypt, Zuleika Penniman from USA and Lebanon, Saher Oliver Samman from the UK, Talin Hazbar from Syria, and Myrtille Ronteix from France.
In terms of professional development, Tanween is Tashkeel’s design programme. Since 2013, we select up to four emerging, UAE-based designers each year to embark on a year of training and mentoring during which time they design, prototype and manufacture a product. Limited-edition lines of these pieces (which range from furniture to lights and decorative objects) then become part of the Tanween collection and are sold exclusively by Tashkeel through its online store and pop-up retail spaces. Since the programme’s inception, Tanween has invested in 19 UAE-based designers from nine countries to develop and manufacture 28 products with a defined UAE aesthetic.
In addition to the international designers who contribute to the Tanween design programme as trainers, our Designer-in-Residence programme invites design practitioners from across the world to spend up to one year at Tashkeel to further their practice through research and experimentation, while sharing their expertise with UAE-based practitioners.
It is not enough to simply train designers or facilitate skills-sharing. Tashkeel recognises the need to strengthen the relationship with the UAE’s manufacturers, suppliers and fabricators. By uniting designers with craftsmen, both of traditional materials as well as modern technologies, we hope to expand the boundaries of UAE-made products.
We are achieving this through a partnership with the open-access, online platform Make Works. As the license holder of Make Works UAE, Tashkeel is building a directory of manufacturers, suppliers and fabricators across the country who are willing and able to work with designers on limited edition pieces and one-offs.
How is Tashkeel contributing to building Dubai as a design capital?
Dubai has become a hub for the MENA region with initiatives such as Dubai Design Week and the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, among many others. Tashkeel aims to be an integral part of this continuing, growing discourse. Our alumni have gone on to participate in design weeks in other parts of the region and win places on prestigious design residencies across the world. It is fundamental that as we grow, we unite practitioners from across the region to develop a defined design language that articulates the dynamic fabric of the region and reflects the rich diversity of its resources.
Our goal is to enable designers to further their practice, develop a language that reflects the depth and diversity of the UAE and establish viable businesses that they can sustain and build, supported by a solid network of committed manufacturers and suppliers as well as a growing body of clients.
We want to continue to provide meaningful experiences through which designers can explore, experiment and innovate in dialogue with their counterparts across the region and the world, and ultimately deepen their footprint on the global design sector.
What needs to be done for the development of the creative community here?
There is a great opportunity to increase UAE production of high-quality, design products that reflect the past, the present and the future of this country by utilising the spirit of tradition as well as innovation that is so rooted here. The key will be in incentivising both industry and designers to work together for their mutual benefit. By doing so, together they will explore new applications for materials and techniques and open up retail opportunities, both at home and abroad, for UAE design.