Once Upon DESIGN: New Routes for Arabian Heritage

Opened on Thursday, March 3, 2016
1971 Design Space, The Flag Island, Sharjah

A select group of makers have collaborated to unearth and experiment with elements of heritage from the Arabian Peninsula, working through their contemporary design practices across the fields of architecture, product and graphic design. Beyond the physical preservation or development of tangible heritage, they focus on innovations in intangible heritage; namely the customs and oral traditions inherited through generations, and group social behaviors implicitly linked to the spaces people occupy.

The seven resulting installations engage their visitor in an experiential discovery of age-old narratives, pointing in new directions. The interactive works respond to traditions by enhancing, altering or subverting them; from an incense burner reimagined for the region today, to a deconstructed Majlis around a symbolic bonfire. How do we experience a traditional courtyard structure, reworked to a new scale? Where does a camel saddle reinterpreted as a swing take you? Deliberate reconstruction of spatial dynamics achieves new functions and forms of social or cultural exchange.

Ancient to modern heritage is celebrated, from the pure ceramic form brought to the region 3000 years ago, to the pre-renovation Abu Dhabi Corniche of the 1990s. Some installations tell stories referring to specific geographical routes, while others play on more metaphorical routes, layering narratives over time. Palmscapes recalls a pilgrim’s transfer of date seeds from the Prophet’s home in Medina to her home country to use them as prayer beads… inadvertently producing the most delicious ‘dates of light’ in North Africa until today. Traditional Samry group singing in Takki W Hakki describes the journey to an unattainable love in the south of Arabia… remixed by a director who brings millions of people together on his Youtube channel in shared experience today.

Once Upon Design utilises circularity and repetition in architecture to symbolise community and denote the passage of time with regards to social practices. Reflecting a unique moment in the Gulf contemporary design scene, this exhibition invites you to choose your own route and take a few rounds: look, touch and immerse yourself in contemporary heritage.

Curated by Noor Aldabbagh


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