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Raising design in the Gulf region: A column by Khalid Shafar

Raising design in the Gulf region: A column by Khalid Shafar

From baby steps to ambitious aspirations

Image: Nuqat
Image: Design Days Dubai
Image: Bidw
Image: Tasmeem Doha
Image: Alriwaq Art Space

Design has officially arrived! It took years to define and realise but in the end, we can proudly say that it is officially here, in the region! And the long wait has been worth it...

Congratulations! A baby is born...

Baby's name: Design.

Birth Date & Time: Recent.

Birthplace: The Gulf Region.

Status: Looking good, healthy, growing well and very promising.


Today, it is taking baby steps. That is, design in all aspects – but more specifically industrial and product based. There were several signs of a prosperous future for design dating back to 1992 when Dubai witnessed the launch of INDEX and in 1998, when Al Riwaq Art Space was founded in Bahrain.

Over the last few years many more projects have been realised paving the way for a very promising future for design in the region.

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In May 2009, the first creative conference in Kuwait under the name Nuqat Ala Al huroof (known now as NUQAT) was launched. The same year, Abu Dhabi Art launched the 'Design Studio' as part of the art fair program, and in 2011, we saw Doha's TaseemME conference (the international design forum that started in 2004) launch 'Taseem Lab' – a live performance by regional and Arab designers showcasing their design process to the public audience. 

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KS collumn

Later, in 2012, the first collectable and limited edition design fair was initiated in the UAE – proudly named 'Design Days Dubai'. During the same year Brownbook magazine launched the first of its kind directory focused purely on design. And in Riyadh, Gallery Design (the first multi-line interiors showroom in KSA) hosted a design and art exhibition, 'DESIGNED', presenting designers and artists from the region.

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KS collumn

Last year was the watershed for design in our region, showing the world a glimpse of its bright future ahead. The jewel in the crown of this evolution came when in late 2013, Dubai announced the establishment of the Dubai Design and Fashion Council followed by the launch of the Dubai Design District (D3). The same year in the same city, a new design trade fair opened its door for the first time – Downtown Design. And in Bahrain, we saw 'the D word' blossom with the launch of Bahrain International Design Week.

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Whilst we may be late bloomers to emerge on the international map of design, we are fast learners with ambitious aspirations and an appetite for growth. We have all it takes to set an appropriate infrastructure and create the right environment to succeed. It took Milan Design Week 52 years to get to where it is today, so how long before Dubai catches up? 30 years? More? Or less? Only time will tell.

What is certain, however, is that the emergence of new local and regional designers will shape the way and lead the design evolution, here, in the region. Doors are open. Opportunities are out there. The time has come for this baby to be nurtured and developed into a future leader. As life changes, things evolve and our need for design grows bigger. And the question remains – how big will design grow in this region? What mark will our design leave on the world?

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Emirati designer Khalid Shafar 's approach to design encompasses his personal expression of form, movement, emotion, and in particular, 'the tale' of objects. Among his notable international collaborations, Khalid collaborated with the Brazilian duo Campana Brothers on an installation for Abu Dhabi Art 2010. He recently collaborated with the historical French cabinetmaker Moissonnier and with the carpet industry leader Tai Ping on special limited edition releases. Khalid's work had been showcased at many exhibitions and galleries in many cities, including Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, and Milan.

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