DXBDW: DesignMENA explores Abwab pavilions with Instagram

Abwab is one of the major initiatives of Dubai Design Week, combining a series of six pavilions featuring designers and curators from six countries across the MENASA region.

This year’s theme is The Human Senses, with designers from Algeria, Bahrain, India, Iraq, Palestine and the UAE showcasing their interpretations of the theme.

Dubai-based a hypothetical office designed all six of the Abwab pavilions as a host country.

designMENA toured all six of the pavilions, using Instagram as a medium to record what each pavilion had to offer, featuring various curators who, in one minute- explained the essential concept of each project.

The Bahrain pavilion, is a collaboration between designers Maitham Al-Mubarak and Othman Khunji, and the team at Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities, centred around the the craft of pottery that is unique to the country.

“In the Khaleej, there are so many crafts and so many that we share across the region itself, but Bahrain sticks out for its pottery. So we wanted to put that out there and secondly to acknowledge the craftsmen and the craft itself,” explained Othaman Khunji.

He explained that the craft has been overlooked for generations and nowadays there is only one area in Bahrain where people go to choose designs that are available, although most of them are aesthetically driven. “So what we did was create a user-friendly interface that allows anyone to skew and design their own pot by just adjusting the scroller on the various areas of the design and creating a shape. You then use your imagination and tell us what you think your object should be. So we did that as a community project and thousands of people in the Middle East submitted online,” he continued. “We allowed anyone to be a designer.”

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images.

The team then produced some of the pieces that were designed by people, aiming to bridge the gap between different generations and the craftsmen. Khunji explained that the idea was to then take it to the next level. “We made hybrids of the designed pieces because back in the day pottery was used as a function. So we wanted to do that with lighting and other functions to show people that this craft can still be functional today, it isn’t just something that is decorative,” he said. “We are now testing this whole process to later implement it properly where people can go to the craftsmen, design their object, and have it created. So it becomes a proper system.” India’a pavilion Memoir Bar invites visitors to make a personal memory tile, assembled into a library of memories. The process starts with picking a memory, writing it down on a piece of paper and shreding it into a fine form and then storing it into a tile form. A selection of colours signify the emotion that matches the memory, which then represents the colour of the tiles. Visitors can choose dual colours as well. 

This is the act of encapsulating a memory in an object, or solidifying and preserving an emotion forever, forming a library of preserved memories.

Curated by Mumbai-based duo Thukral and Tagra, the pavilion is set up as a bar where visitors receive and create their tangible memories over the counter.

Memoir Bar, India Pavilion for Abwab. Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images.

“You can view the collection as an emotional currency, the only understanding is that this can be a library or a bank of deposits of your memory, it can be a port to throw away memories and collect new ones,” Tagra told designMENA.

“Everything has become a digital archive, especially with the rise of social media. These memories are tangible. It is a physical object of your memory.”

He explained that the exhibition will become one that tours the world. Dubai is the second leg, following its first unveiling in Mumbai. The next step is New Delhi, then Hong Kong and London. The duo said their intention is to take it around the world and collect an archive of solid memories.

Iraq’s pavilion curated by designers Rand Abdul Jabbar and Hozan Zangana, comprising of an “archaeology of forms and a field of discoveries”.

“Hozan is Kurdish, I am Arab. He left Iraq when he was 15, me when I was five. He grew up in Amsterdam and I grew up in the UAE, so in a sense we didn’t want to lay claim to the identity of Iraq but instead, because we shared a sense of wonder and longing towards it,” said Abdul Jabbar.  “We looked at the things that unite us all as Iraqis, despite the different languages and ethnicities and religions and its really this sense of pride towards our ancient past.”

“Excavations is this instigation to examine and reinterpret the role within contemporary design. So we looked at things like archaeological sites, architecture, sculpture, script, and translated that abstractly into these forms. And then we present it as almost what we describe as an archaeology of forms and field of discoveries, that are these series of objects that are in dialogue with each other, they have a sense of abstractness where you are not really sure what they are but the intention is to make people ponder that thought,” Abdul Jabbar said.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

The Palestinian pavilion is curated by brother duo Yousef and Elias Anastas, who focused on the constraints of using olive wood that is available in abundance in Bethlehem but is undervalued. “There is a very well-known craft of olive wood in Bethlehem and when you are extracting olive wood you don’t need to uproot the entire tree, you just take the branches. But as a constraint you have only small sized elements of wood,” Yousef told designMENA. “Usually olive wood is used for figurines, either religious or just small souvenirs, so our challenge as architects was to find a way to build a large-scale structure with olive wood, with the constraints of having small-sized elements.”

Palestine pavilion for Abwab. Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images.

Greek orthodox monks introduced olive wood carving in Bethlehem in the 4th century. It became a major craft industry in the 16th and 17th century after Franciscans and Italian pilgrims shared their know-how with local residents. Today, Olive wood carving represents one-third of the craft industry in Bethlehem. Visitors will experience Mass Imperfections as a structure made out of olive wood elements that are small with respect to the structure they compose.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

“Here we have 552 elements and the principle is that each element holds three of the others, so each element is carved so you have six points that go under three other modules and so on. So each panel, structurally plays the same role across the entire structure,” Yousef said.

He explained that the process of fabrication creates pieces that are both unique, yet identical.

“The process of fabrication is very interesting because it mixes human hands and machinery. The installation is called Mass Imperfections because the process we use is that you have an original piece and you have a machine that has 12 heads and there is a guy at the centre of the machine who scans the original piece and the 12 heads move along with them. So you get 12 pieces that are the approximation of the original piece but they are all identical,” he said.

The UAE’s pavilion is curated by husband and wife team, Salem and Maryam Al-Qassimi, in collaboration with designers Salem Al Mansoori, Tarik Zaharna  and Ric Hernandez. The concept is an exploration of the cultural and social elements of UAE’s ubiquitous cafeteria culture.    

“The aesthetics that you see here are very accessible but they are also sort of poking fun at the aesthetics of the cafeteria. And conveniently this is a current trend in design, as coined by Rob Giampietro who called it Default System Designs, all based on designs that are influenced by the default settings in software, like gradients or system fonts like Helvetica”, said Salem Al Qassimi.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

So we went with that idea throughout the space and even with the book that we designed to complement the pavilion, which is created using default fonts or free fronts, and CMYK or RGB colours, all of them are very default.

Algeria’s pavilion is an interactive experience where users become musicians, performing improvised beats using contemporary Algerian design-drums. A soundtrack will guide the audiences through a sensory experience and inspire personal beats to unify all those within.

Photo by Rajesh Raghav/ITP Images

The pavilion is curated by painter and designer Hellal Zoubir, in collaboration with Mourad Krinah, Walid Bouchouchi, Souad Delmi Bouras, and Mohamed Ourrad .