Feature: Anas Al Horani. Photography: Courtesy of Amman Design Week
In the first iteration of Amman Design Week, an abundance of uniqueness, creativity, and talent was on display
From the first day of September to the ninth, Amman’s cultural life thrived. Amman Design Week was an opportunity to showcase local and regional talents and creative minds. It was also a venue that encouraged other hidden potentials to follow suit. Amman, the capital city and heart of Jordan, has always strived to be an oasis for creativity, and in this year’s Amman Design Week, it succeeded in presenting itself as a critical site for local and regional creativity, as well as a platform that celebrates cultural diversity. Amman Design Week, as our readers must know by now, is an annual immersive experience in design and creativity. This year’s nine-day celebration took place in Downtown Amman, with a comprehensive programme that encompassed a large variety of exhibitions, events and workshops that communicated a unique artistic language, at once universal in form and rooted in local heritage.
The Hangar Exhibition
The first stop – and the heart of Amman Design Week – was The Hangar Exhibition. The Hangar, also known as Gallery Ras El Ain, was originally constructed to house the electricity generators that powered Amman. It’s an angular construction of concrete and glass, which quickly became a symbol of the city’s swift industrialisation, and was transformed by the Greater Amman Municipality into a cultural space that plays host to exhibitions and shows.
Suspended from the ceiling at the far end of the Hangar was the exhibition’s center and one of its defining highlights, Al Warqaa by Adel Abidin, an Iraqi artist based in Helsinki and Amman. Al Warqaa was a mixed-media sculpture inspired by a poem by Avicenna that compared the journey of a soul to that of a dove. The piece itself was a light-based sculpture of a dove restrained from the ground by a rope tied to a rock. Al Warqaa, in its radiance, simplicity and sheer size, was the centre of everyone’s attention.
Entrelac, by Raya Kassisieh & Nader Tehrani (NADAAA), was the first installation that one faced upon entering. The piece was a large, looming web of thick ropes hanged from the metalwork of the ceiling. The ropes zigzagged and formed rhombuses, and the sheer size of the piece dwarfed everything around it. Entrelac was created in collaboration with women from local communities as an architectural garment, which descends with a geometric exactitude and an unobtrusive naturalness that made it look like the roots of a massive tree.
In the far right corner of the hangar, Mais al Azab’s Pygmalion stood. It was a set of two custom-designed easels placed to form a unity. The minimalist set paid homage to the art of manufacturing easels and invited visitors to give their attention to the sleek structure and hidden utility of the easel, bringing what we usually think of as a backdrop to the artwork to the forefront, as an independent artwork in itself.
Geometric Arabic Minimalist Alphabet by Tariq Yosef was stapled on the wall. It was a presentation of the entire Arabic alphabet reimagined as a sleek, pop-art design. Tariq Yosef is an art director and designer devoted to creating contemporary Arabic visual content and design messages. The approach Yosef employed in his curious typography was baring each letter to its basic geometric elements and filling the spaces where the lines meet with a blast of colour. The effect was visually pleasing and very contemporary.
The Golden Globe by Aziza Chaouni Projects was a massive globe made of haphazardly gilded cinder blocks. The piece was a wild reimagining of the potential. The Golden Globe recognised the pervasiveness of what Aziza Chaouni Projects referred to as “the cinder block culture,” and came off as a sly and playful installation that was not only innovative but also serious about its urban concerns.
Indigo by Katia Al Tal (Nuwa Creations) was a kinetic lamp that consisted of rotating cerulean ceramic layers whose motion resulted in a multitude of shapes. Katia Al Tal’s work fuses calligraphy and clay to make works that are vibrant and calming. In that sense Indigo, like other Nuwa Creations pieces, was not only a decoration but also an inspired objet d’art.
Minaret Installation by Yazeed Obeid and Jeries El Ali was a steel fixture, which carved out an absent minaret that appears or disappears depending on the position of the viewer. The piece was sponsored and produced by The King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) and represented a wonderful synthesis of modern art and Islamic iconography.
Face From Another World by Ziad Qweider was encased carefully. It was a collection of intricate and cryptic embroidery works. The pieces were both extremely minimalistic and complex at once. Each one of the pieces was meant to convey a message or tell a story – and that was anything from the disintegration that results from civil war and armed conflict, to love and spiritual unity. Qweider delighted in explaining his works to his audience in hushed tones. He comes, at the end of the day, from a family that collects and cherishes the old Palestinian garment (or ‘thob’). His fascination and love not only showed in his work, but in his words as well.
The first was the Tania George Designs collection, which consisted of uniquely tailored and embroidered funky pieces that reflected the pop history of Amman and its quirky elements through durable and specially produced prints. Tania George Haddad is a Jordanian designer who makes embroidered clothing inspired by the capital. Her work has an additional significance for being socially conscious – Tania collaborated with Syrian refugees in making the collection.
The second was Kumbaz’s collection, which sought to revive Jordanian sartorial heritage and modernise it. Fatina Asfour, the regionally and internationally admired fashion maven, designed those pieces with a perfectionist’s love and care. The collection’s distinct embroidery work reflected Jordan’s tradition and its heady history in the craft.
Jabal Amman Table by Jafar Dajani followed. Dajani is an art collector and interior designer whose work is regionally and internationally celebrated and admired. His piece was a chic stacking of eight cylinders, each referring to a unique memory in the life of Amman or one of its eight roundabouts, which constituted the central nervous system of the city. Dajani’s piece, like most of his works, was deceptively simple and lovely yet full of symbolism.
The HD Tree Light (Harley Davidson) by Auto-Art: Abdulrahman Asfour consisted of a light piece made from Harley Davidson exhausts, metal and fabric. The piece was a continuation of Auto-Art’s experiments in turning junk into usable interior elements, and showcased an edginess that appeals to a wide audience, even H. R. Giger fans.
Sophisticated Simplicity – 40s Collection by Morph-X Design Studio was outside the booths. It was a collection of chic, hyper-minimalistic furniture pieces conceived of pure geometric forms, clean sheets and slabs of copper and marble. Morph-X Design studio, responsible for the installation, is headed by Suliman Innab and known for its cutting-edge and sleek designs, and Sophisticated Simplicity was only the culmination of those qualities.
Concrete Khatt Low Table by Nada Debs was a rectilinear concrete table that looked as if it sprung from the depths of the earth. The only thing that broke the absolute austerity of the piece was the Islamic calligraphy adorning it in repetitive mother of pearl blocks. Nada Debs, the furniture designer of Lebanese origin, has always been interested in the question of communication – especially the communication between civilisations – and in her Low Table, she intricately managed to raise that question again.
Concrete Bulbs by WaxBusters was a set of concrete panels in four parts. The panels were protruding bulbous abstract-expressionist whirls, which were the result of rapidly cooling down liquid wax with iced water. The patterns, on the other hand, were the outcome of melting the wax molds after casting. Concrete Bulbs seemed to be a curious exploration of art created through technical experimentation. WaxBusters is a creative team that consists of Ammar Kalo, Dina Samara, Takwa ElGammal and Yasmeen Hamouda.
Peace & Love by Hayan Maani was installed in an upstairs booth. Hayan Maani is a multi-talented artist based in Amman who dabbles in his work with architecture, sculpture and calligraphy, among other things. His work, Peace & Love, consisted of two striking chairs that merged Arabic calligraphy with modern furniture design.
Unfolding Unity Stool Marble Edition by Aljoud Lootah Design Studio was a piece from the Double Square collection of geometric furniture. Viewed from above, Unfolding Unity Stool revealed its Arabesque motif, which it employed creatively by deriving other shapes and extensions that produced the structure of the stool. The fact that the piece was made of marble heightened the contrast of rigid element and animated design to an entirely satisfactory effect.
Warsheh’s Tiles followed. Tiles was a series of conventional terrazzo tiles laid on the floor to make graphic, snake-like compositions using only two basic forms. Warsheh is one of the most innovative and pioneering graphic design collectives in Jordan, and in this work they showcased what has become their signature at this point: recreating chic historical elements in innovative and modern ways.
The Wihdeh collection, by Naqsh Collective, was in the middle of the hangar’s path, consisting of two outstanding tables that looked like slabs of marble strewn together by elements of copper and engraved with what looked like intelligible QR codes. The Wihdeh collection was inspired by embroidery and technology, and it was the latest in a series of works that reflect an oriental feel but skew the expectations that come with it with a modern, cosmopolitan touch.
Two works by Ammar Khammash were present. The first, Listening to the Secret Sounds of the Desert, was a prototype for a musical instrument composed solely of desert flints and geological formations in the eastern Badia of Jordan. The piece was interactive and garnered a lot of audience attention. The second, Wood Stoves, was a set of zoomorphic stoves that seemed plucked right out of early 20th century colonial interiors. Wood Stoves was made from welded steel that reflected the intended rigidity of the piece.
The next stop after The Hangar Exhibition was The MakerSpace. Only a short walk away from the Hangar, The Jordan Museum is home to a vast collection of artifacts and archaeological finds. Choosing a site that includes within it 1.5 million years of Jordanian history for the most forward-looking section of Amman Design Week was an obvious and sly wink at the intersection of history and technology. The works presented there were all hi-tech in spirit, and the artists and designers there were all fascinated with the ways futuristic ideas can mould our present. The MakerSpace showcased new technologies (3D printing) and wild ideas (transmitting your heartbeat to the public), but mostly it represented a generation that is both worldly and wise.
FLO OFF was the first piece visitors saw when they headed to The MakerSpace. It was the work of Hanna Salameh Design, and it consisted of a series of hovering discs stacked stylishly above each other. The discs could be pushed to create any dynamic shape, relying on a central axis that gave the piece its kinetic balance of stability and vitality, and they seemed to reflect Amman’s architectural ambitions and dynamism.
A number of Hashem Joucka’s works were exhibited, including Labyrinth coffee table, which was a 3D sculpture made of sliced sections of wood and designed using mathematical functions and algorithms; as well as Tension to Compression chandelier, a fabric and resin lightweight fixture that is both hypnotic and cryptic. Aluminum Cloud was also exhibited, a dynamic cloud model made of aluminium cast in hydrogel. Joucka’s work, pioneering and technologically concerned, presented a pure expression of the ethos of The MakerSpace.
Goistses by Yara Hindawi, was one of The MakerSpace’s central installations. Hindawi is a graphic designer, illustrator and street artist whose central character is the “goist” – a pseudo-ghost that resides in its own world. The “goist” inhabits a colourful world, and this colourfulness is reflected in the 3D prints of its models. Hindawi’s graffiti, strewn all over Amman’s streets, has always been a celebration of dynamic lines and arresting colour combinations. Her 3D printed models were just as physically dynamic and visually arresting.
Qalban Qaleban (“Heart and body”) was an interactive sculpture by Fadi Zumot. The piece, made of around 14,000 hot-red wool stitches reminiscent of a human heart, invited visitors to enter its inner platform and attach a sensor to their index finger. Once attached, the sensor made the heartbeats of the visitor audibly heard. The piece sought to “externalise the privacy” of visitors. Zumot is currently developing his first, similarly-themed biology-inspired collection.
The Crafts District
In a few minutes’ walk from the Roman Theater in Downtown Amman one reaches The Raghadan Tourist Terminal, which was planned to become a tourist hub connecting locals and visitors to surrounding suburbs and destinations in Amman in specific, and Jordan in general. Designating The Raghadan Tourist Terminal as a site for Amman Design Week came with the noble intention of reviving the space, by allowing craftspeople to showcase all their projects, traditions and methods in a series of pop-up shops and installation booths.
The first booth that greeted visitors was Jordan River Foundation’s. It offered a collection of hand-crafted traditional pillowcases, mirrors and pedestals, made by local women to aid them and improve their lives. Next to it, Racha Tarazi’s installation booth presented Deconstructing a Tree House, which was the result of collaboration with a carpenter and a metal smith for an abstract playground for children, to enhance their creativity and allow them to decide what the playground space is for rather than decide that for them.
Nour Nsheiwat’s installation booth was a curious scene: a number of chairs plastered to a wall, surreally skewing the perception of the onlookers. The chairs were joined by embroidery and a table set. It was a dining room, deconstructed and reconstructed, with the aim of studying similarities between ethnic groups.
Limited Addition’s booth consisted of tree cutouts arranged to create a sense of depth. It was a distillation of the company’s dedication to creating elegant paper products. Visitors were advised to protect plants and plant seeds in order to spread more breathing spaces in cities.
Sabrina Baggili and Bayan Dahdah’s Kheit Halfa ala Heit Khalfa was a glorious installation of spatial weave made from banana tree leaves and Halfa grass selvage, descending from the ceiling and creating what looks like a natural scene, suspended in motion and time. The installation’s rotating panel was interactive, producing sounds that remind visitors of its presence in the site and the women behind it, whose livelihoods rely on such handcrafts. It bears noting that the title of the piece is a play on a children’s popular tongue-twister.
Reverie’s booth showcased the company’s products, which fuse fabric and embroidery with elements of Jordan’s nature. Al Burgan Handicraft’s booth, on the other hand, presented the unique handmade items that set their brand apart. The pillows, gowns and kaftans displayed in the booth were beautiful, carefully made and visually arresting.
Onur Lambaz and Maisa Taha’s Pouring was a cascade of hand-blown glass pieces hung from the ceiling in front of a large mirror. The installation was a collaboration with one of the last remaining hand-blown glass manufacturers in Jordan. Positioning the hand-blown glass pieces in front of the mirror allowed visitors to take pictures of themselves near them.
Sahar Madanat Design Studio’s booth was a highlight in The Crafts District. Madanat, a pioneer in product design in the MENA region, has always been concerned with improving the quality of people’s lives with her design solutions, and in Amman Design Week, her goal was in the title: Reviving Local Crafts through Design for Mass Production. Her installation presented a reworking of the ‘bottle’ sand art into a product line of lamps whose life can be increased depending on the user. The lamps and light bulbs looked both elegant and raw, a mixture of locality and mass production.
Kama Local Gourmet booth was another highlight. Kama Local Gourmet’s mission was to provide the finest Jordanian and Middle Eastern specialty food, and in the booth they displayed their product lines of delicious delicacies. One could hear the excited conversations about the quality and premium taste the brand presented.
Other Exhibitions and Openings
The final section of Amman Design Week was the additional exhibitions, shows and openings interspersed in the capital.
Tubro’s exhibition in downtown showcased Prototype 1, a series of works by Sahel Al Hiyari and Laith Demashqieh. Al Hiyari, the designer and curator of Amman Design Week’s Hangar Exhibition, has always been an exciting mind in furniture design. His furniture pieces in Turbo were presented as free-flowing creative forms rather than finished objects. Next to them were Demashqieh’s artworks, which looked like suspended watercolours or archaeological cross sections. Both pieces were celebratory and impressively imaginative.
The Duke’s Design Center hosted Constellations. Curated and designed by Sahel Al Hiyari and the result of a collaboration between Mamdouh Bisharat, Sami Haven and Abeer Seikaly, Constellations was essentially an empty room in which if you looked up, you noticed an almost star-shaped opening in its roof. Above the opening, in the second story hidden from view, was hung a massive light fixture designed to disperse light and – through the opening in the ceiling – create a visual flow that mimics the light of the moon. Constellations was an ambitious exhibition and the product of expertise and high-minded artistry. It was, in other words, the best example of the creative forward thinking that characterised Amman Design Week.
The Duke’s Diwan, on the other hand, hosted The Secret of Eternal Life is Giving exhibition, which was in memory of the late Ali Maher. Ali Maher was a deeply admired key figure in the artistic and intellectual life of Amman. In memory of the third anniversary of his passing, The Secret of Eternal Life is Giving exhibited some of the late Maher’s drawings and sketches, which depicted in impressionistic lines and strokes his deep love and belonging to the Jordanian capital.
Amman Design Week was a magnanimous platform for designers and artists who use their creativity and skills to find new ways to inhabit the world. The designers and creatives who showcased their works participated in widening the horizon of their own local communities and made it possible to innovate more bravely, even within local constraints. Amman Design Week was not only a paean to art and design, but also the expression of a yearning for a future that doesn’t sacrifice the past in its progress.
Tags: #amman, 1 millimetre, abrina Baggili and Bayah Dahdah, Ali Maher, Aljoud Lootah Design Studio, Amman Design Week, Ammar Khammash, Auto-Art, Aziza Chaouni Projects, Fadi Zumot, Hanna Salameh Design, Hashem Joucka, Hayan Maani, Jafar Dajani, Jordan River Foundation, Kama Local Gourmet, Katia Al Tal, Kumbaz, Laith Demashqieh, Limited Addition, Mais al Azab, Maisa Taha, Morph-X Design, Nada Debs, Naqsh Collective, Nour Nsheiwat, Nuwa Creations, Onur Lambaz, Raya Kassisieh & Nader Tehrani, Reverie, Sahar Madanat Design Studio, Sahel Al Hiyari, Tania George Designs, Tariq Yosef, Trendlocal, Turbo, Warsheh, WaxBusters, Yara Hindawi, Yazeed Obeid and Jeries El Ali, Ziad Qweider