Victor Hunt Designart Dealer presents Limited Moth lamp. Mischer’traxler immortalise the endangered Austrian moth species Catocala Conversa in brass. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Design Days Dubai, the region’s foremost fair dedicated to collectible design, has come a long way.

It has gone from showcasing 22 regional and international design galleries at its inaugural edition in 2012 to 47 galleries representing 21 countries this year. On show at the fair’s fifth anniversary are over 750 exceptional design works by some of the most accomplished designers.

“Back in 2012 we were a small, emerging gallery but some of the opportunities that Design Days Dubai presented us allowed us to grow and make significant, confident strides in our discipline,” says Alexis Ryngaert of Victor Hunt Designart Dealer. “In five short years we have witnessed first-hand how the fair has helped contemporary design to permeate across all layers of the UAE community, besides the expats and international beau-monde. In 2012 we sold works up to about €8,000 [Dh32,315]. Last year we were selling pieces worth €70,000.”

The gallery that brought us the show-stopping kinetic installation Time Dubai in 2013 will present design studio Mischer’Traxler’s numbered edition lamps inspired by an endangered moth species.

“It was challenging at first as exposure to contemporary design is still young in the region,” said Rola Wazni, director of Carpenters Workshop Gallery that operates from London and New York. “Over the years we have seen the audience becoming more aware of the designers and their works, and knowledgeable of the major design directions happening in the world. In addition, participating in the fair has broadened our gallery’s understanding of Middle Eastern culture.”

REGION REPRESENTED

Underscoring the fair’s contribution to the regional design community, an unprecedented 23 galleries from the Middle East are slated to showcase this year. “Design was not at the forefront of culture in this region till Design Days Dubai gave it the value it deserves in our society,” said Aya Nakkash of Dubai-based Nakkash Gallery, which has presented at the fair since its inaugural edition. “The fair is a great platform to educate the public, broaden the understanding of design to the younger generation, and raise the standard of regional design.” This year, Nakkash presents never-seen-before works by Emirati designer Khalid Shafar.

“That the fair affords us access to a regional and international audience is key to why we return every year,” say Joy Mardini of Art Factum Gallery, which will present works by noted Lebanese designers. “Being based in Beirut, and knowing its socio-economical instability, it was of major importance for us to be able to reach out to new markets and clientele.” Naqsh Collective from Jordan also returns with its acclaimed Wideh Collection featuring contemporary design pieces that celebrate classical Jordanian embroidery. M.A.D Gallery from Dubai will add presents futuristic mechanical art.

Featuring 20 works by UAE-based designers, WASL is the largest retrospective of the nation’s talent. From works by recent winners of design awards such as Ivan Parati, last year’s winner of Van Cleef & Arpels Middle East Emergent Design Prize, and Anjali Srinivasan, who was recently named Swarovski Designer of the Future 2016, to emerging designers such as Talin Hazbar and Latifa Saaed, WASL will mark the fifth anniversary of Design Days Dubai, showcasing a wide array of works designed or produced in the UAE between 2012 and 2016.

DESIGN FOR THE PUBLIC

Held in partnership with Dubai Design District, the fair’s public programme that runs alongside the main exhibition promises 25 free-to-attend events designed to broaden visitors’ experience to the fair and give everyone — from design novices and enthusiasts to professionals — the opportunity to further their understanding of design. “Our non-commercial programme is a formidable chance to meet, interact and learn from the experts,” says fair director Cyril Zammit. “Through these programmes, the fair facilitates exchange of ideas to both stimulate dialogue and promote the UAE’s increasing influence as the regional capital of design.”

Internationally acclaimed ceramic artist Professor Magdalene Odundo OBE will lead The Making Process workshop that includes a demonstration of wheel-based ceramic techniques and the concepts or narratives that inform them. Encouraging participants to experiment with geometric forms that recur in Middle Eastern architecture, Tarek Al Kassouf will facilitate the workshop Unfolding the Cube. As part of the Dutch Craft Industry, NexAR will present two hands-on workshops. Shifting Perspectives, led by Rick Teglaar, focuses on the usage of wire mesh and wood to create new forms and textures. The other, Treasures from Plastic Waste, led by Studio Their & van Daalen, looks into possibilities of plastic bags, out of which participants will be challenged to create a design piece; the final outcome will be documented to create a database of special products from recycled materials.

Beirut-based designer Marc Dibeh, architect and researcher Niko Koronis, Salman Jawed, the co-founder of Pakistan’s multidisciplinary Coalesce Design Studios and Sharjah-based designer Ammar Kalo will offer mentorship sessions to design students. Through these one-on-one sessions students stand to gain career advice and immediate feedback on their projects.

Dubai-based design studio D04 Studios will present Flux, a live design-in-the-making performance commissioned by Dubai Design & Fashion Council. Inspired by the ever-changing surfaces of the desert dunes, Flux hopes to create a new furniture typology that is a hybrid of wall, floor and majlis seating. An artisanal craftsman will be on site to demonstrate the art of mother-of-pearl, bone and ebony inlay.

MARCEL’S WONDERS

This year, superstar Dutch designer Marcel Wanders will deliver the opening keynote, On the Crossroads between Art and Design. “My vision from early on was to bring a humanistic vision in to design,” Wanders told tabloid!.

To do this properly meant being in a position to replace the coldness of industrialism with poetry, fantasy and romance of different ages, and vividly bring his own designs to life in the same context.

“I opened my studio in 1995 in Amsterdam with the intention of establishing an atelier where the designer, craftsperson and user were reunited.”

After 21 years and with a portfolio of time-defining, iconic works to his name, Wanders has managed to remain true to his vision while successfully avoiding a trademark aesthetic that is often associated with established designers.

“Auto-trademarking any part of your creative genius is creative death,” he says while acknowledging the importance of certain recognisable elements as inherent to a designer’s creative philosophy. “It is perhaps more important to push your own limits, explore different facets within yourselves and discover something new every day.”

As is evidenced in the Personal Editions Collection that he will present at Design Days Dubai, the designer has found a balance between connectivity in his work and innovation — and has been rewarded handsomely with enviable industry clout. “People react differently to success. Some change their mannerisms, other might start believing they are superior, but frankly, the world is changing so fast, I really don’t have time to rest on accomplishments of the past. I’d rather put my effort into seeking new collaborative projects and finding new technologies to create something wonderful and surprising.”

Don’t miss it!

Design Days Dubai runs at The Venue, Downtown Dubaifrom March 14 to 18. designdaysdubai.ae

— Pratyush Sarup is design manager at one of the UAE’s premium interiors firms.